How Viruses Affect Carbon Storage in the Ocean: An Interdisciplinary Workshop

Vinothan Manoharan, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Amala Mahadevan, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; Harvard University

Bacterial phytoplankton are responsible for most of the photosynthesis on the planet, and they play an essential role in how the oceans store and sequester carbon. Viruses called phages infect and kill a significant fraction of these bacteria each day. Although it is known that phage infections reduce the capacity of the bacterial phytoplankton to produce organic matter, it is not yet clear whether they reduce carbon storage in the ocean. A major unresolved problem is determining how phage-bacteria interactions lead to the production of long-lived forms of organic matter. This problem is important because climate change is likely to change these interactions and affect the ability of the oceans to mitigate the effects of carbon dioxide emissions. Our accelerator workshop aims to bring together experts in the fields of marine microbiology and oceanography with researchers working on viruses in the context of physics, materials science, and human health. Researchers from these fields bring expertise in new techniques that, if applied to marine microbial systems, could yield advances in our understanding of the oceanic carbon cycle. We aim to develop new approaches, new collaborations, and new conceptual frameworks, with a particular focus on developing specific plans for laboratory-scale experiments that reveal how microbial ecosystems transform matter.