Host-Virus Interactions in Marine Cyanobacteria

The outcome of interactions between single cells and viruses at the physiological level determines whether a cell survives or dies, new viruses are produced, and the genomic make-up each will have. Such interactions, therefore, impact the ecology and evolution of both host and virus populations. In my lab we take an integrated approach, investigating host-virus interactions at the physiological, ecological and evolutionary levels, to explore how host-virus interactions impact host and viral population dynamics, diversity and genome evolution. Our lab focuses largely on the marine cyanobacteria Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus, abundant primary producers of global importance, and the viruses (cyanophages) that infect them. In our work we combine oceanographic field sampling, laboratory experimentation and state-of-the-art molecular technologies to analyze these interactions.


Some of the key questions we are currently addressing are: How abundant are viruses that infect cyanobacteria and how much of cyanobacterial mortality is due to viral infection? Once a virus meets its host, how does it go about taking over host metabolic processes and turning it into a viral production factory? What defenses do hosts employ against infection? What reciprocal genome changes occur due to host-virus interactions? How common is horizontal gene transfer between them and what is the fate and function of horizontally transferred genes in the recipient organisms?


Taking an integrated approach to investigating the impact of infection at these different levels will help us gain insight into how genome architecture and the respective physiological responses that emanate from these genomes impact the ecological role of both cyanobacteria and cyanophages in ocean ecosystems.