Over 5,500 new RNA viruses lurking in the murky depths of Earth have been uncovered by researchers undertaking an enormous survey of the world’s oceans. This work has been published in Science, and focused mainly on how RNA viruses influence global carbon output.
Between 2008 and 2011, the Tara Ocean Expedition was a global research project voyaging across the world’s oceans and collecting many samples of seawater. The scientists aboard analyzed the water and found that there were hundreds of thousands of DNA viruses in these samples and that there were five major distinct ecological zones.
Armed with this knowledge, the researchers have further analyzed these samples for RNA in the biggest-ever survey of RNA viruses in the ocean. RNA is the molecular cousin to DNA and RNA viruses are well known in human diseases – some RNA viruses include those that cause the flu and COVID-19.
In regards to the new study, “we are certainly sure that most RNA viruses in the ocean are infecting microbial eukaryotes, so fungi and protists, and to a lesser extent, invertebrates,” co-first author Guillermo Dominguez-Huerta told Live Science.