Zooplankton may serve as transmission vectors for viruses infecting algal blooms in the ocean

Miguel José Frada, Daniella Schatz, Viviana Farstey, Justin E. Ossolinski, Helena Sabanay, Shifra Ben-Dor, Ilan Koren, Assaf Vardi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Summary Marine viruses are recognized as a major driving force regulating phytoplankton community composition and nutrient cycling in the oceans [1, 2]. Yet, little is known about mechanisms that influence viral dispersal in aquatic systems, other than physical processes, and that lead to the rapid demise of large-scale algal blooms in the oceans [3, 4]. Here, we show that copepods, abundant migrating crustaceans that graze on phytoplankton [5, 6], as well as other zooplankton can accumulate and mediate the transmission of viruses infecting Emiliania huxleyi, a bloom-forming coccolithophore that plays an important role in the carbon cycle [7, 8]. We detected by PCR that >80% of copepods collected during a North Atlantic E. huxleyi bloom carried E. huxleyi virus (EhV) DNA. We demonstrated by isolating a new infectious EhV strain from a copepod microbiome that these viruses are infectious. We further showed that EhVs can accumulate in high titers within zooplankton guts during feeding or can be adsorbed to their surface. Subsequently, EhV can be dispersed by detachment or via viral-dense fecal pellets over a period of 1 day postfeeding on EhV-infected algal cells, readily infecting new host populations. Intriguingly, the passage through zooplankton guts prolonged EhV's half-life of infectivity by 35%, relative to free virions in seawater, potentially enhancing viral transmission. We propose that zooplankton, swimming through topographically adjacent phytoplankton micropatches and migrating daily over large areas across physically separated water masses [9-11], can serve as viral vectors, boosting host-virus contact rates and potentially accelerating the demise of large-scale phytoplankton blooms.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2592-2597
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number21
StatePublished - 3 Nov 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier Ltd.


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