mSphere 6 (2) - [2021-04-28; online 2021-04-28]
Up to 20% of prokaryotic organisms in the oceans are estimated to die every day due to viral infection and lysis. Viruses can therefore alter microbial diversity, community structure, and biogeochemical processes driven by these organisms. Cyanophages are viruses that infect and lyse cyanobacterial cells, adding bioavailable carbon and nutrients into the environment. Cyanobacteria are photosynthesizing bacteria, with some species capable of N2 fixation, which are known to form large blooms as well as resistant resting cells known as akinetes. Here, we investigated cyanophage diversity and community structure plus cyanobacteria in dead zone sediments. We sampled surface sediments and sequenced DNA and RNA, along an oxygen gradient-representing oxic, hypoxic, and anoxic conditions-in one of the world's largest dead zones located in the Baltic Sea. Cyanophages were detected at all stations and, based on partial genome contigs, had a higher alpha diversity and different beta diversity in the hypoxic-anoxic sediments, suggesting that cyanobacteria in dead zone sediments and/or environmental conditions select for specific cyanophages. Some of these cyanophages can infect cyanobacteria with potential consequences for gene expression related to their photosystem and phosphate regulation. Top cyanobacterial genera detected in the anoxic sediment included Dolichospermum/Anabaena, Synechococcus, and Cyanobium RNA transcripts classified to cyanobacteria were associated with numerous pathways, including anaerobic carbon metabolism and N2 fixation. Cyanobacterial blooms are known to fuel oxygen-depleted ecosystems with phosphorus (so-called internal loading), and our cyanophage data indicate the potential for viral lysis of cyanobacteria which might explain the high nutrient turnover in these environments.IMPORTANCE Cyanophages are viruses that target cyanobacteria and directly control their abundance via viral lysis. Cyanobacteria are known to cause large blooms in water bodies, substantially contributing to oxygen depletion in bottom waters resulting in areas called dead zones. Our knowledge of cyanophages in dead zones is very scarce, and so far, no studies have assembled partial cyanophage genomes and investigated their associated cyanobacteria in these dark and anoxic sediments. Here, we present the first study using DNA and RNA sequencing to investigate in situ diversity of cyanophages and cyanobacteria in dead zones. Our study shows that dead zone sediments contain different cyanophages compared to oxic sediments and suggest that these viruses are able to affect cyanobacterial photosystem and phosphate regulation. Furthermore, cyanophage-controlled lysis of cyanobacteria might also increase the turnover of carbon, phosphorus, and nitrogen in these oxygen-free environments at the bottom of the sea.