Infection of phytoplankton by aerosolized marine viruses

Shlomit Sharoni, Miri Trainic, Daniella Schatz, Yoav Lehahn, Michel J. Flores, Kay D. Bidle, Shifra Ben-Dor, Yinon Rudich, Ilan Koren, Assaf Vardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Marine viruses constitute a major ecological and evolutionary driving force in the marine ecosystems. However, their dispersal mechanisms remain underexplored. Here we follow the dynamics of Emiliania huxleyi viruses (EhV) that infect the ubiquitous, bloom-forming phytoplankton E. huxleyi and show that EhV are emitted to the atmosphere as primary marine aerosols. Using a laboratory-based setup, we showed that the dynamic of EhV aerial emission is strongly coupled to the host-virus dynamic in the culture media. In addition, we recovered EhV DNA from atmospheric samples collected over an E. huxleyi bloom in the North Atlantic, providing evidence for aerosolization of marine viruses in their natural environment. Decay rate analysis in the laboratory revealed that aerosolized viruses can remain infective under meteorological conditions prevailing during E. huxleyi blooms in the ocean, allowing potential dispersal and infectivity over hundreds of kilometers. Based on the combined laboratory and in situ findings, we propose that atmospheric transport of EhV is an effective transmission mechanism for spreading viral infection over large areas in the ocean. This transmission mechanism may also have an important ecological impact on the large-scale host-virus "arms race" during bloom succession and consequently the turnover of carbon in the ocean.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6643-6647
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
StatePublished - 26 May 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Aerosol
  • Algal bloom
  • Coccolithophores
  • Emiliania huxleyi virus
  • Marine viruses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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