Publication in Nature Communications


Viruses under the Antarctic Ice Shelf are active and potentially involved in global nutrient cycles

Viruses play an important role in the marine ecosystem. However, our comprehension of viruses inhabiting the dark ocean, and in particular, under the Antarctic Ice Shelves, remains limited. Here, we mine single-cell genomic, transcriptomic, and metagenomic data to uncover the viral diversity, biogeography, activity, and their role as metabolic facilitators of microbes beneath the Ross Ice Shelf. This is the largest Antarctic ice shelf with a major impact on global carbon cycle. The viral community found in the cavity under the ice shelf mainly comprises endemic viruses adapted to polar and mesopelagic environments. The low abundance of genes related to lysogenic lifestyle (<3%) does not support a predominance of the Piggyback-the-Winner hypothesis, consistent with a low-productivity habitat. Our results indicate a viral community actively infecting key ammonium and sulfur-oxidizing chemolithoautotrophs (e.g. Nitrosopumilus spp, Thioglobus spp.), supporting a “kill-the-winner” dynamic. Based on genome analysis, these viruses carry specific auxiliary metabolic genes potentially involved in nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus acquisition. Altogether, the viruses under Antarctic ice shelves are putatively involved in programming the metabolism of ecologically relevant microbes that maintain primary production in these chemosynthetically-driven ecosystems, which have a major role in global nutrient cycles.