Host-virus dynamics and subcellular controls of cell fate in a natural coccolithophore population. Academic Article uri icon


  • Marine viruses are major evolutionary and biogeochemical drivers in marine microbial foodwebs. However, an in-depth understanding of the cellular mechanisms and the signal transduction pathways mediating host-virus interactions during natural bloom dynamics has remained elusive. We used field-based mesocosms to examine the "arms race" between natural populations of the coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi and its double-stranded DNA-containing coccolithoviruses (EhVs). Specifically, we examined the dynamics of EhV infection and its regulation of cell fate over the course of bloom development and demise using a diverse suite of molecular tools and in situ fluorescent staining to target different levels of subcellular resolution. We demonstrate the concomitant induction of reactive oxygen species, caspase-specific activity, metacaspase expression, and programmed cell death in response to the accumulation of virus-derived glycosphingolipids upon infection of natural E. huxleyi populations. These subcellular responses to viral infection simultaneously resulted in the enhanced production of transparent exopolymer particles, which can facilitate aggregation and stimulate carbon flux. Our results not only corroborate the critical role for glycosphingolipids and programmed cell death in regulating E. huxleyi-EhV interactions, but also elucidate promising molecular biomarkers and lipid-based proxies for phytoplankton host-virus interactions in natural systems.

publication date

  • November 20, 2012