Communication via extracellular vesicles enhances viral infection of a cosmopolitan alga

Daniella Schatz, Shilo Rosenwasser, Sergey Malitsky, Sharon G. Wolf, Ester Feldmesser, Assaf Vardi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Communication between microorganisms in the marine environment has immense ecological impact by mediating trophic-level interactions and thus determining community structure 1 . Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are produced by bacteria 2,3, archaea 4, protists 5 and metazoans, and can mediate pathogenicity 6 or act as vectors for intercellular communication. However, little is known about the involvement of EVs in microbial interactions in the marine environment 7 . Here we investigated the signalling role of EVs produced during interactions between the cosmopolitan alga Emiliania huxleyi and its specific virus (EhV, Phycodnaviridae) 8, which leads to the demise of these large-scale oceanic blooms 9,10 . We found that EVs are highly produced during viral infection or when bystander cells are exposed to infochemicals derived from infected cells. These vesicles have a unique lipid composition that differs from that of viruses and their infected host cells, and their cargo is composed of specific small RNAs that are predicted to target sphingolipid metabolism and cell-cycle pathways. EVs can be internalized by E. huxleyi cells, which consequently leads to a faster viral infection dynamic. EVs can also prolong EhV half-life in the extracellular milieu. We propose that EVs are exploited by viruses to sustain efficient infectivity and propagation across E. huxleyi blooms. As these algal blooms have an immense impact on the cycling of carbon and other nutrients 11,12, this mode of cell-cell communication may influence the fate of the blooms and, consequently, the composition and flow of nutrients in marine microbial food webs.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1485-1492
Number of pages8
JournalNature Microbiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2017

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© 2017 The Author(s).


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