Editors' ChoiceVirology

The Death of Cocco

Science Signaling  10 Nov 2009:
Vol. 2, Issue 96, pp. ec362
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.296ec362

Emiliania huxleyi is a coccolithophore, a class of unicellular phytoplankton that forms vast blooms mediating the oceanic carbon cycle through shedding of its calcium carbonate scales. E. huxleyi is routinely infected and killed by lytic viruses that can abruptly halt a bloom. Vardi et al. have found that in E. huxleyi strains that are sensitive or resistant to infection, a sphingolipid-based “arms race” appears to regulate cell fate during host-virus interactions. The lipid also serves as a biomarker for active infection that may help to quantify the role and activity of viruses and virus-mediated processes in the oceans. This information will help in assessing the biogeochemical impact of these plankton species.

A. Vardi, B. A. S. Van Mooy, H. F. Fredricks, K. J. Popendorf, J. E. Ossolinski, L. Haramaty, K. D. Bidle, Viral glycosphingolipids induce lytic infection and cell death in marine phytoplankton. Science 326, 861–865 (2009). [Abstract] [Full Text]