Chinese researchers have discovered a new virus at the bottom of the ocean in the deepest place on Earth.
The pathogen was found in sediments eight kilometers below sea level in the Mariana Trench, the lowest point on Earth in the Pacific Ocean, and south of Japan.
“Wherever there is life, you can be sure there are regulators at work,” said Min Wang, a marine virologist at China Ocean University in Qingdao, who led the research. “Virus, in this case.”
The virus is a bacteriophage (meaning “bacteria-eater”) and survives by infecting and replicating inside bacteria.
The species are usually harmless to human cells, as they do not recognize them as prey.
The pathogen was found in sediments five miles below sea level in the Mariana Trench, the lowest point on Earth in the Pacific Ocean, and more than 120 miles east of the Mariana Islands.
They published their report in Microbiology spectrum.
The virus was found in sediments 29,200 feet below sea level in the Mariana Trench, which reaches nearly 36,100 feet at its lowest point.
According to the report, virus-infected bacteria are typically found in deep-ocean sediments and in hydrothermal vents, or openings in the seafloor that release currents of hot water.
“To our knowledge, this is the deepest known isolated phage in the global ocean,” Wang said.
According to Wang, an analysis of the virus’s genetic material suggests the existence of a previously unknown viral family in the ocean.
It also provides new insights into deep-sea phages and phage-host interactions, Wang said.
The new virus is being identified as vB_HmeY_H4907 and the team’s analysis shows that it has a similar structure to its host.
The virus is lysogenic, meaning it invades and replicates within the host and generally does not kill the bacterial cell.
According to the report, virus-infected bacteria are typically found in deep-ocean sediments and hydrothermal vents, or openings in the seafloor that release currents of warm water.
The research team looked for viruses in bacterial strains that were collected and isolated by another team led by Yu-Zhong Zhang, also a marine virologist at China Ocean University.
Wang said the researchers’ findings lead to new questions and investigations into how viruses in hostile, isolated environments stay alive and how they co-evolve with their hosts.
The team wants to continue investigating interactions between deep-sea viruses and their hosts, and looking for new viruses in other extreme places.
“Extreme environments offer optimal prospects for discovering new viruses,” Wang said.