Viruses are the most abundant biological entities in the oceans, with as many as 10 million in a single teaspoon of seawater. If all the viruses in the world’s oceans were laid end-to-end they would span 100 times the distance across our galaxy!
Not only are viruses hugely abundant, they are also major players in the world’s oceans. They play a key role in global biogeochemical cycling, in which substances like carbon and phosphorous move between living organisms and the atmosphere and oceans.
Viruses also represent a huge reservoir of unexplored genetic diversity and they drive the evolution of their hosts through horizontal gene transfer between individuals.
However, these roles in evolution and their other beneficial influences are often overlooked, as viruses are mostly viewed as pathogens. This leaves viruses as the least studied of the biota living within coral reefs, making them the ‘dark matter’ component of reef ecosystems.
AIMS has a large initiative under way to understand the critical roles that viruses associated with corals and sponges play in health, disease and adaptation to climate change. This research provides valuable insights into the environmental sensitivity of corals and sponges, contributing to reef protection strategies.
Our scientists have developed methods for viral and coral researchers to study the viruses associated with coral reefs. We are at the cutting edge of this research and we anticipate many novel discoveries surrounding the impact viruses have in coral reefs