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Science 326 (5954): 861-865

Copyright © 2009 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Viral Glycosphingolipids Induce Lytic Infection and Cell Death in Marine Phytoplankton

Assaf Vardi,1,* Benjamin A. S. Van Mooy,2 Helen F. Fredricks,2 Kimberly J. Popendorf,2 Justin E. Ossolinski,2 Liti Haramaty,1 Kay D. Bidle1,{dagger}

Abstract: Marine viruses that infect phytoplankton are recognized as a major ecological and evolutionary driving force, shaping community structure and nutrient cycling in the marine environment. Little is known about the signal transduction pathways mediating viral infection. We show that viral glycosphingolipids regulate infection of Emiliania huxleyi, a cosmopolitan coccolithophore that plays a major role in the global carbon cycle. These sphingolipids derive from an unprecedented cluster of biosynthetic genes in Coccolithovirus genomes, are synthesized de novo during lytic infection, and are enriched in virion membranes. Purified glycosphingolipids induced biochemical hallmarks of programmed cell death in an uninfected host. These lipids were detected in coccolithophore populations in the North Atlantic, which highlights their potential as biomarkers for viral infection in the oceans.

1 Environmental Biophysics and Molecular Ecology Group, Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University, 71 Dudley Road, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, USA.
2 Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA.

* Present address: Department of Plant Sciences, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel.

{dagger} To whom correspondence should be addressed: bidle{at}

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A. Vardi, L. Haramaty, B. A. S. Van Mooy, H. F. Fredricks, S. A. Kimmance, A. Larsen, and K. D. Bidle (2012)
PNAS 109, 19327-19332
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Seasonality in Ocean Microbial Communities.
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7000 Years of Emiliania huxleyi Viruses in the Black Sea.
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Marine Prasinovirus Genomes Show Low Evolutionary Divergence and Acquisition of Protein Metabolism Genes by Horizontal Gene Transfer.
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