Giant viruses feeding on algae could slow ice melting

Jun 11, 2024

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Researchers have discovered giant viruses living on algae-blackened ice in the Arctic, which could be harnessed to reduce ice melting.

During spring in the Arctic, the days lengthen, and the sun rises higher in the sky, bringing life back to the area. This includes algae, which begin to bloom and blacken large areas of the ice. When the ice blackens, its ability to reflect the sun is limited, accelerating the ice’s melting. This increased melting contributes to the worsening of global warming.

To investigate the phenomenon, the researchers used techniques to analyze samples from dark ice, red snow and melting holes (cryoconite). They found signatures of active giant viruses, which is the first time they’ve been found on surface ice and snow that contains a high concentration of pigmented microalgae.

What are these Giant viruses?

Giant viruses are not as scary as they sound – they can grow up to 2.5 micrometers, which, although still not visible by the naked eye, is bigger than most bacteria.

  1. They also differ from normal viruses because they contain DNA, which they can translate to mRNA.
  2. It was this mRNA that the researchers looked at to ensure that the giant viruses’ DNA didn’t come from long-dead microorganisms.
  3. While DNA from dead viruses can be found in samples, mRNA is broken down much faster, and is therefore an important marker of viral activity.
  4. The researchers found the same markers in the sequenced mRNA as the sequenced DNA, indicating that the viruses are living and active on the ice.

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