Many scientists believe that climate change is a major threat and we have no time to take action. In addition, new research shows that trees may not be as effective in coping with climate change as we think. Wouldn't it be nice if we could absorb excess carbon from the atmosphere and lock it permanently at the bottom of the sea? It sounds like science fiction, but it is possible.
The ocean is incredibly vast. As we learn more about the microbes living there and their interactions with carbon, it is possible to envision engineering projects that can increase ocean carbon storage.
Scientists recently conducted in-depth research on 5500 kinds of marine RNA viruses. They found that several viruses may help promote the permanent storage of carbon absorbed from the atmosphere on the seabed.
The analysis also showed that a small number of these newly discovered species "stole" genes from the organisms they infected, and helped researchers determine their hypothetical hosts and functions in marine processes.
In addition to mapping basic ecological data, this study also enables people to have a more comprehensive understanding of the great role played by these small particles in the marine ecosystem.
Ahmed Zayed, a microbiology research scientist from Ohio State University and co-author of the research paper, pointed out: "these findings are very important for model development and prediction of the correct direction and range of carbon."
If we consider the vastness of the ocean, the magnitude problem is a serious consideration.
Matthew Sullivan, the first author of the research paper and professor of Microbiology at Ohio State University, envisions that when designed on a large scale, the identified viruses can be used as a controllable "knob" of the biological pump to affect the storage of carbon in the ocean.
"As humans put more carbon into the atmosphere, we need to rely on the huge buffer capacity of the oceans to mitigate climate change," Sullivan said, "We are increasingly aware that we may need to adjust this pump on the scale of the ocean. We are interested in viruses that can adjust to more digestible carbon, which enables the system to grow, produce larger and larger cells, and sink. If it sinks, we can get hundreds or a thousand more years from the worst effects of climate change. I think society basically expects this technology to repair, but this is a Complex basic scientific problems to take them apart. "
The study was published in the June 9 issue of science.
These RNA viruses were detected in plankton samples collected by Tara oceans consortium, a global study on the impact of climate change on the oceans conducted on Tara ketch. The goal of this international effort is to reliably predict how the oceans will respond to climate change by becoming familiar with the mysterious creatures living there. It is understood that these organisms undertake most of the work of absorbing half of the carbon produced by humans in the atmosphere and producing half of the oxygen we breathe.
Although these marine virus species do not pose a threat to human health, they behave like all viruses, each of which infects another organism and uses its cellular mechanisms to make its own copies. Although the results are always considered adverse to the host, the activity of the virus may bring benefits to the environment - such as helping to dissipate harmful algal reproduction.
The key to defining their position in the ecosystem is to develop computing technology, which can cajole information about the function and host of RNA viruses from fragments of the genome, which are small at the beginning according to the standards of genomics.
Guillermo Dominguez Huerta, co-author of the paper, said: "we make data our guide." He was a postdoctoral fellow at Sullivan laboratory.
The statistical analysis of 44000 sequences revealed the structural patterns of the RNA virus community. Using these patterns, the research team divided the RNA virus community into four ecological regions: the Arctic, Antarctic, temperate and tropical upper layers (the place closest to the surface where photosynthesis occurs), and the temperate and tropical middle layers (200-1000 meters deep). These areas are closely related to the regional distribution of nearly 200000 marine DNA virus species previously determined by researchers.
Research shows that although biodiversity tends to expand in the warm regions near the equator and decline in the cold polar regions, Zayed pointed out that the network-based ecological interaction analysis shows that the diversity of RNA virus species is higher than expected in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
"When it comes to diversity, viruses don't care about temperature," he said. "In polar regions, there is a more obvious interaction between viruses and cell life. This tells us that the high diversity we see in polar regions is basically because we have more virus species competing for the same host. We see fewer host species, but more virus species infect the same host."
The research team used a variety of methods to identify possible hosts. First, they infer the host according to the classification of viruses in marine plankton, and then predict how the number of viruses and hosts "change together" - because their abundance is interdependent. The third strategy involves looking for evidence of RNA virus integration in the cell genome.
Dominguez Huerta explained: "the virus we studied will not insert itself into the host genome, but many viruses will be accidentally integrated into the genome. When it happens, this is a clue about the host, because if you find a virus signal in the host genome, it is because the virus is in the cell at some time."
Although most dsDNA viruses have been found to infect bacteria and archaea, which are abundant in the ocean, this new analysis found that RNA viruses mostly infect fungi and microbial eukaryotes, and to a lesser extent invertebrates. Only a tiny fraction of marine RNA viruses infect bacteria.
The analysis also unexpectedly found that 72 helper metabolic genes (amgs) with different functions were scattered among 95 RNA viruses, which provided some of the best clues -- indicating which organisms these viruses infected and which metabolic processes they tried to reprogram in order to maximize the "production" of viruses in the ocean.
It is reported that further network-based analysis has identified 1243 RNA viruses related to carbon export. To be very conservative, 11 viruses are suggested to be involved in promoting carbon export to the seabed. Among them, two viruses related to the host of algae family were selected as the most promising follow-up targets.
Sullivan said, "modeling has reached the point where we can extract gene bags from these large-scale genome surveys and map metabolism. I imagine that we can actually use AMG and these viruses predicted to infect specific hosts to pull these metabolic maps to obtain the carbon we need. And it is through this metabolic activity that we may need to take action."