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The new study was initiated as part of the NIMBioS Working Group on Ocean Viral Dynamics, shown here at its last meeting in January 2014. Credit: NIMBioS.

Viruses infect more than humans or plants. For microorganisms in the oceans — including those that capture half of the carbon taken out of the atmosphere every day — viruses are a major threat. But a paper published today in the journal Nature Microbiology shows that there’s much less certainty about the size of these viral populations than scientists had long believed.

Collecting and re-examining more than 5,600 estimates of ocean microbial cell and virus populations recorded over the past twenty-five years, researchers have found that viral populations vary dramatically from location to location, and at differing depths in the sea. The study highlights another source of uncertainty governing climate models and other biogeochemical measures.

The research, which involved authors from fourteen different institutions, was initiated as part of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) Working Group on Ocean Viral Dynamics. Joshua Weitz, an associate professor in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology and one of the paper’s two senior co-authors, co-organized the working group, along with lead co-author Steven Wilhelm, a UT professor of microbiology. The research was completed with additional support from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the Simons Foundation.

Continue reading on the NIMBioS website.