Behind the scenes
Nutrient-virus interactions in picophytoplankton
Amy Zimmerman, a postdoctoral fellow at MBARI, recently conducted field experiments to study the interactions between viruses and nutrients in the ocean. She traveled to the Sargasso Sea (in the North Atlantic Ocean) to investigate how these interactions impact picophytoplankton, the smallest community of phytoplankton.
Marine phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that reside in the ocean’s upper layer where there is sufficient sunlight for these photosynthetic organisms to use for energy. Picophytoplankton populations are controlled by many factors. For example, their numbers can increase when there are enough available nutrients and decrease when they are grazed by predators or when attacked by viruses.
Viruses are largely made up of nucleic acids, which contain phosphorus, a nutrient that is scarce in the Sargasso Sea. Scientists hypothesize that the low phosphorus levels impact the growth and development of viral infections. Therefore, Zimmerman aimed to study whether virus-related deaths in picophytoplankton depend on the available nutrients, namely phosphorus, in surrounding waters. She is currently analyzing the data she collected.