Viruses May Do the Ocean Good
A new study shows that viruses can help keep down algal blooms.
The ocean is full of viruses: up to 10 billion per liter, PNAS says. Scientists have barely begun to explore their roles in marine biology. Since they are so good at disrupting cells, they can put that skill to beneficial purposes in the right environments. In the paper, Katie Bidle attempts to begin “Elucidating marine virus ecology through a unified heartbeat,” i.e., by “using ribonucleotide reductases (RNRs) from virus metagenomes as a unifying molecular marker to not only characterize the diversity of resident viruses in distinct marine environments, but to infer their ecological strategies (e.g., specialists vs. generalists) across environmental gradients.”
One ecological strategy appears to be beneficial. As many know from news, when algal blooms create the infamous “red tide,” fish can become infected and die, and the water is spoiled for humans until the red tide disappears. But what makes it disappear? A new study published in Current Biology shows that “Zooplankton May Serve as Transmission Vectors for Viruses Infecting Algal Blooms in the Ocean.” Specifically, tiny copepods, components of plankton, are carriers of a virus named E. huxleyi. Their feces carry the viruses, which then infect the algae that cause toxic blooms. “We propose that zooplankton, swimming through topographically adjacent phytoplankton micropatches and migrating daily over large areas across physically separated water masses, can serve as viral vectors, boosting host-virus contact rates and potentially accelerating the demise of large-scale phytoplankton blooms,” they found.
This is an interesting finding that appears to support the work of creation biologist Joe Francis of The Master’s College. He has already found several cases where “nasty” bugs like cholera actually have a good function in their intended environment. Cholera’s ability to dessicate cells, for instance, works for the benefit of certain creatures in estuaries (see summary by Frank Sherwin at ICR). Dr. Francis has also found good functions for bark beetles that have devastated some western forests. Is it possible that many of the examples of “natural evil” that cause such suffering in humans are situations where well-designed systems—intended for good—get out of control? If so, that would support the explanation that the Curse described in Genesis involved primarily a relaxation of regulatory processes. A good thing in the wrong place, or without proper regulation, can turn into a great “evil.” Alternatively, the Lord could have given Satan and his minions the ability to “hack” some of the genetic software and turn it against man and the rest of Creation (only under God’s permissive will, of course, as seen in the book of Job).
The Creator promised man that sin would bring death. It’s not that God would have to kill Adam and Eve directly with an angelic sword; what better way to force fallen humans to consider the consequences of their disobedience than by turning them loose in a world of broken ecological relationships, where they could never know what risks might get them at any time. If people knew when they would die, they would put off thinking about repentance to the very end. Each of us needs to know that our day could come anywhere, anytime. That’s the world we live in; but God has also not left Himself without witness, in that He does good, bringing rains from heaven, satisfying our hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14) during our brief time under the sun (Ecclesiastes).
It’s also amazing to realize that the ocean is as full of “information” as it is with water—information in the form of DNA. The world is filled with information! Dr. William Dembski’s new book Being as Communion explores the idea of information, not material particles or energy, as comprising the fundamental essence of reality.