Thursday, August 21, 2008

New viral way of life discovered in deep-sea vents

Guy Plunkett of Enteropathogen Resource Integration Center pointed out this New Scientist article to me. I got a chuckle out of it.

The gist of the story is that Eric Wommack has discovered that many of the bacteria living near deep sea vents harbor viruses in their genomes. This is apparently a first for oceanic microbes.

New Scientist likes to play up discoveries like these. The article claims, "Marine phages - the viruses that parasitise bacteria and archaea in the sea - tend to infect their hosts, divide and burst them like balloons....Instead of hijacking bacteria to spawn offspring, these cell-splitting - or lysogenic - viruses insert their short genomes into the bacteria's own, endowing it with potentially useful genes." This is what the article claims is a "New viral way of life"!

Not hardly. Lysogeny is not exactly a new way of life. It was observed quite soon after bacteriophages were discovered in 1915-1917. Guiseppe Bertani (of LB broth) wrote a nice article about the early years. The quality of fact checking at New Scientist is apparently quite poor. Moreover the article cited by article does not in fact mention anything about lysogeny or deep sea vents for that matter. It is quite puzzling.


  1. Phage research isn't covered accurately in the popular media? I'm shocked, shocked and appalled!

    When the C/N/S journals question the applicability of phage research to "viruses," it means there are too few well-informed biologists out there to guide the media in the first place. :-(

  2. John,

    Thanks for the egoboo ;-)

    Phage are such major players in bacterial evolution and diversity, including the development of pathogenicity, that it still amazes me how under the radar they are to the media. Unless it's an article on the "new idea" of phage therapy, of course ... but that's a topic for another day.

  3. What is this new-fangled "phage therapy" you speak of? ;)