The oceans hide all kinds of secrets and unknowns in the depths, such as the 195,728 viruses that scientists have found lurking underwater, during the course of a pole-to-pole expedition conducted to study marine life. The researchers say that the vast majority has never been seen before.
Before this, we only knew definitively about 15,000 of these oceanic viruses, so this study is a great agreement for our understanding of our planet.
Researchers say the findings can teach us more about everything from the evolution of life on the planet to the possible consequences of climate change.
The research is based on samples collected between 2009 and 2013 by a team on board the Tara, a ship that has spent more than a decade in the water investigating the science of the ocean and the clues that can give us how our world evolves.
The Tara. (A. Deniaud Garcia / Tara Ocean Foundation)
"Viruses are these little things that you can not even see, but because they are present in such large quantities, they really matter," says one of the team's members, microbiologist Matthew Sullivan of Ohio State University.
"We have developed a distribution map that is essential for anyone who wants to study how viruses manipulate the ecosystem." There were many things that surprised us about our findings.
Despite the large number of viruses discovered and the vast complexity of the world's ocean regions, the team of researchers was able to divide the viruses into five distinct ecological zones: all the depths of the Arctic and Antarctic, and three different depths of the Temperate and tropical regions.
In fact, the Arctic Ocean, where researchers did not expect much of the biodiversity, turned out to be an unexpected hot spot in life. It all adds up to our understanding of how viruses spread throughout the planet.
Scientists estimate that there are many tens of millions of viruses in the ocean, many of which could also exist outside water, and even in our own bodies. Being able to identify more of them can teach us more about life itself, not just life underwater.
For the purposes of this study, in addition to detecting new viruses found in water samples from depths of up to 4,000 meters (13,123 feet), the researchers also identified new strains by badyzing other microbes and living organisms that settled in the oceans. .
The breadth of the new research is also important because it helps scientists calculate more accurately the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: marine organisms help to recycle oxygen, while the oceans absorb and store a large amount of CO2 too.
More life below the surface of the water means more CO2 converted into organic carbon and biombad, stored in the depths of the sea, instead of acidifying the oceans of CO2 and killing marine life on the road. It is a delicate and complex set of mechanisms.
"Having a new map of where these viruses are located can help us understand this oceanic carbon bomb and, more broadly, the biogeochemistry that affects the planet," says Sullivan.
"The models of previous oceanic ecosystems have commonly ignored microbes and rarely include viruses, but now we know they are a vital component to include."
The research has been published in. Cell.