AME 33:1-10 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/ame033001

Virus-induced transfer of organic carbon between marine bacteria in a model community

Mathias Middelboe1,*, Lasse Riemann1,4, Grieg F. Steward2, Vinni Hansen1, Ole Nybroe3

1Marine Biological Laboratory, University of Copenhagen, Strandpromenaden 5, 3000 Helsingør, Denmark
2Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA
3Department of Ecology, The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, 1871 Frederiksberg C, Denmark
4Present address: University of Kalmar, Department of Biology and Environmental Sciences, 391 82 Kalmar, Sweden

ABSTRACT: Viral lysis results in the transformation of living cells into dissolved and colloidal organic matter referred to as lysate. When viruses are included in food web models it is generally assumed that lysates are readily metabolized by bacteria in the community. We hypothesized that the production of lysate by viruses could also influence microbial community composition by mediating the diversification of carbon sources. To test this hypothesis, we established simple model communities containing various combinations of 2 marine bacteria (Cellulophaga sp. and Photobacterium sp.) and 2 viruses (one specific to each bacterial type) grown in a seawater-based medium with lactose as the sole carbon source. This medium supported vigorous growth of Cellulophaga sp., but not of Photobacterium sp. In control experiments, where Photobacterium sp. was cultured with either Cellulophaga sp. or Cellulophaga-specific virus, the biomass of Photobacterium sp. increased by 50% or less. In contrast, the Photobacterium sp. biomass significantly increased by 8-fold (p < 0.001, n = 3) in co-cultures with the Cellulophaga sp. virus-host pair. These data indicate that the substrate supporting growth by Photobacterium sp. was primarily Cellulophaga lysate and not material introduced with the host and virus inocula nor material secreted by Cellulophaga during normal growth. Estimates of the trophic transfer suggested that 28% of the Cellulophaga sp. lysate was converted into new bacterial biomass, which indicated that at least 62% of the lysate was metabolized by Photobacterium sp. Our results from this simple marine model community illustrate that the activity of a virus-host system can effect the transfer of organic material from one bacterial type to another whose growth would otherwise be limited by a lack of suitable substrates.


KEY WORDS: Virus · Lysate · Bacterial uptake · Carbon cycling · Diversity


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