When you lower a bucket into the ocean, from a pier or off the side of a ship, it may well seem to come up containing nothing but clear water. But scientists now know that every teaspoonful of that water can contain a hundred-million tiny viruses. That sounds sinister, but without them the ocean couldn't function. Every day, marine viruses invade bacteria and other organisms, releasing their nutrients to the underwater food chain. Only since the late 1980's have marine biologists been aware of how many viruses are indigenous to the ocean, and how powerful and varied they are. They differ radically in size, shape, and DNA blueprint -- so much so that totally novel DNA keeps being discovered, with implications for anything from anti-aging creams to anti-cancer drugs and evolutionary science. Far from being a bad thing, these amazing marine viruses are useful, dramatic, novel, and dynamic; imagine that all hiding in your bucket of clear water!
Producer Judith Kampfner travels from the coast of Plymouth in England to Santa Monica to meet with some of the intrepid pioneers who are on the trail of these new natural marvels.
Photograph of algae, Emiliania Huxleyi, was provided with permission by The Natural History Museum, London (Dr. Jeremy Young) and University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Angie Fox) / 2009.
The Bucket was produced by Judith Kampfner, and mixed by Jared Weissbrot with support from science editor Barbara Culliton. This program is part of the series "World of Viruses" produced with support from SEPA, the Science Education Partnership Award Program at NIH, the National Center for Research Resources, in collaboration with NET Radio, the Nebraska Center for Virology and the University of Nebraska.
Links: Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences This is a research institute that stays abreast with the latest technology to understand the relationship between marine ecosystems, global climate and the environment. One of it's scientists, Dr. Willie Wilson is featured on the program.