Viruses thrive in aquatic plants in Florida’s springs
Viruses are a hot topic. We hear about them daily. While the viruses that dominate the news cause disease, this is not always the case. Some viruses survive in living things without doing any harm. Some can even help the host organism. There are so many different types of viruses in the world, yet we know so little about them. Dr. Mya Breitbart's lab at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science is working on that very problem, figuring out which viruses are in aquatic habitats and what they are doing there.
Recently, the focus has been on viruses in macrophytes, a diverse group of photosynthetic plant-like organisms that are visible with the naked eye, in Florida's beautiful freshwater springs. Macrophytes include seagrasses, mosses, macroalgae, liverworts, and more. These organisms help keep our springs crystal clear, provide food for manatees and other animals, and help with nutrient and carbon cycling in these unique environments.
There are some viruses that have long been known to cause disease in crops and other land plants, so a great deal of energy (and money) goes into monitoring them. However, many viruses also infect land plants without causing harmful symptoms and some have even been shown to be advantageous. For example, some viruses enhance a plant's tolerance to drought. Unlike land systems, almost nothing is known about viruses in aquatic plants.
Lead researcher Dr. Karyna Rosario explains, "It's mind-blowing that the study of viruses began with the discovery of a plant virus, tobacco mosaic virus. Yet, after a century of virological research on terrestrial plants, we have not paid attention to viruses infecting aquatic plants. We might not eat most of these plants, but they are essential for the health of marine and freshwater systems."