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Professor Li-Nan Huang's team from School of Life Sciences has made important progress in the study of tailings viral community diversity and functional roles

Last updated :2020-07-25

Source: School of Life Sciences
Written by: School of Life Sciences
Edited by: Tan Rongyu, Wang Dongmei

Recently, the research group of Professor Li-Nan Huang from the School of Life Sciences at Sun Yat-sen University published an online article entitled "Depth-related variability in viral communities in highly stratified sulfidic mine tailings" in the internationally renowned academic journal Microbiome (IF: 11.607). The School of Life Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University is the first unit to complete this article. Dr. Shao-Ming Gao and Professor Li-Nan Huang are the first and the corresponding author of this paper, respectively. This study found that the diversity, structure, lifestyle and function of virus communities in vertically stratified mine tailings increased with depth, and revealed a potential contribution of viruses to the assimilatory sulfate reduction process in the deeper part of the tailings impoundment and thus likely modulate the sulfur cycle in the tailings.

Fig. 1 Variability in viral diversity, abundance and compositions along the depth profiles of mine tailings.

Viruses are most abundant entities and play important ecological roles on the earth. Viruses can substantially affect the ecology, evolution, and physiology of their hosts in natural settings by causing host mortality, facilitating horizontal gene transfer, and participating in host metabolisms with auxiliary metabolic genes. Due to the absence of a phylogenetically informative universal marker, researchers know little about the diversity and functional roles of viruses in the natural environment for a long time, which has also been the focus and frontier of microbial ecology research recently.

Fig. 2 Assimilatory sulfate reduction genes found in viruses in the deeper mine tailings.

Viral genomes were obtained from different depth of vertically stratified mine tailings with metagenomic sequencing, and the viral diversity and abundance increased with depth in the tailings cores. The enrichment of prophages in the surface mine tailings suggested a preference of lysogenic viral lifestyle which might enhance phage and host survival in more acidic and oligotrophic conditions. Meanwhile, Community-wide comparative analyses clearly showed that viruses in the surface tailings encoded genes mostly with unknown functions while viruses in the deeper layers contained genes mainly annotated as conventional functions related to metabolism and structure. Notably, significantly abundant assimilatory sulfate reduction genes were identified from the deeper tailings layers and they were widespread in viruses predicted to infect diverse bacterial phyla. Overall, the results revealed a depth-related distribution of viral populations in the extreme and heterogeneous tailings system. The viruses may interact with diverse hosts and dynamic environmental conditions and likely play a role in the functioning of microbial community and modulate sulfur cycles in situ.

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (nos. 31570500, 31870111, and 40930212).

Link to the paper: https://microbiomejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40168-020-00848-3