New Investigation into Soil Microbes and Climate Change

New understanding of the role of microbes in thawing permafrost

A deeper understanding of viral genomes in Swedish permafrost provides insight into climate change.

“Microbes have significant influence over global warming, primarily through the production of – or consumption of – methane, and new details about these microscopic beings’ genetics is now available, thanks to a trio of studies from a project co-led by researchers at The Ohio State University.”

“Because of global climate change, huge amounts of permafrost are rapidly warming. To microbes, they’re like freezers full of juicy chicken dinners that are thawing out. In many cases, microbes take advantage of this situation to chew up what’s in the permafrost and breathe out methane.”

“By looking at the genomes of the microbes, the team was able to figure out what capabilities they have. It will enable climate scientists to better estimate the speed of climate change, giving humans a clearer timetable for response.”

Read the full press release here.

Cristina Howard-Varona’s paper on phage infection efficiency featured in EMSL!

Phage-host Interactions are More Complicated than most Laboratory Studies Suggest

Molecular studies shed light on how viruses infect bacteria in nature

“For years, scientists have experimented with phages—the viruses that infect bacteria—to learn how they change their host. Because such studies are difficult to accomplish in the wild, most have focused on viruses and host cells tailored for laboratory experiments. Now a team of scientists departs from these “optimal” laboratory-suitable viruses to study the molecular response when bacteria and phages interact in nature, where phages do not always encounter the perfect host.”

“Phage research has helped identify DNA as the hereditary material and described the nature of gene expression in microbes, but studies of interactions are largely limited to laboratory studies featuring optimal infection conditions. Broadening the understanding of how efficiently phages infect a host in nature can help scientists develop better ecosystem models, devise more sustainable biotechnology, and improve human health.”

Undergrads, we’re recruiting!

Undergraduate students interested in a research project should express interest by emailing a CV and brief statement of interest to Matt Sullivan. We are currently seeking reliable undergraduates to assist in the following areas:

  • phage discovery for therapeutic purposes (E. coli and C. diff)
  • database and sample inventory

Ohio State study: Global teamwork on scientific research growing

“More than ever, scientists are going beyond seeking colleagues from down the hall and instead looking to partner with the best and brightest across time zones, languages and cultures. Global science is nothing new, but the pace and expanse of international research is reaching incredible levels, according to a new study from OSU.

“Curiosity knows no border. Talent knows no boundaries,” said Dr. John Barnard, president of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Science has always valued that. It’s core to our being.”

But as federal science funding dwindles and travel to and from the United States is becoming increasingly political and problematic, the international science community could rethink America’s role in that network, said Caroline Wagner, an OSU associate professor of public affairs who helped conduct the university’s recent research on the topic.

“What it hurts is future research,” she said. “The longer-term harm to science from that would be more corrosive.”

Her research analyzed multiple-author scientific papers with collaborators from more than one country between 1990 and 2015. The percentage of international studies grew from 10 percent to 25 percent.

The global focus also held true for Ohio, Wagner found, where an Akron scientist is more likely to have a co-author in Japan than one based in Dayton.

In 2013, Ohio produced more than 22,000 multinational papers. That year, Ohio researchers published just 400 studies that involved collaborations within the state.” Read full article from Columbus Dispatch

Bacterial Host Response is Key to Severity of Viral Infection

The Science

Bacteria have a major impact on natural ecosystems, human health, disease progression and industrial processes using bacterial cultures, but viruses that infect bacteria can The ϕ38:1 virus represents the fourth most abundant viral group in oceans.influence all of these systems. A recent study revealed how viruses that are common in the environment can efficiently infect some bacterial cells but not others.

The Impact

A better understanding of how host cells control viral infection could be invaluable for modeling virus-host interaction ecology, as well as for designing virus cocktails to fight pathogens.

Read more…

Viromics Training Workshop at OSU Helps Researchers Use Tools to Overcome Challenges in Viral Metagenomics

Researchers in the Sullivan lab recently hosted a 3-day viromics training workshop, with fellow scientists from nearly a dozen different institutions participating. The workshop focused on using the tools and resources available at iVirus (a CyVerse-supported project) and MetaVir to study and process viral metagenomic datasets. Participants were able to bring their own data and get hands-on feedback throughout the workshop.

Check out the summary article at CyVerse!

Ocean Carbon Flux Dissected With Genetics Techniques

Humans put about 7 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere each year. Of those 7 gigatons, the ocean takes up about 50 percent. But how the seas take up all this carbon, the ocean carbon flux, is not fully understood.

The role of phytoplankton, microscopic plants that drift in the ocean, is acknowledged to be significant in ocean carbon uptake but there are thousands of varieties of phytoplankton and all may not play the same role. In addition, bacteria and viruses have a role to play in ocean carbon fixation too, but sorting through the thousands, if not millions, of the ocean’s microbes and linking them to an ocean carbon sequestration function is daunting, to say the least.

Enter Matt Sullivan, assistant professor of microbiology and civil, environmental and geodetic engineering at Ohio State University. read more


Plankton Networks Driving Carbon Export in the Oligotrophic Ocean

Tara Oceans vessel

©S. Bollet

This new study establishes the important role of plankton networks in removing carbon from the atmosphere and depositing it deep in the ocean. And it opens up opportunities for caring for the ocean in ways that encourage it to absorb more carbon.

The latest in a series of studies, appears in the current issue of the journal Nature and includes work by Matthew Sullivan, an assistant professor of microbiology at The Ohio State University, and Jennifer Brum and Simon Roux, postdoctoral researchers in Sullivan’s lab.

See summary article in OSU News.