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2010 Annual Science Report

Montana State University Reporting  |  SEP 2009 – AUG 2010

Viral Ecology and Evolution

Project Summary

We are interested in studying the viruses inhabiting the acidic hot springs within Yellowstone. We hypothesize that further understanding the viral dynamics, diversity, and composition will aid in the understanding of early Earth and how cellular life may have evolved.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
3 Publications
3 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

Our working hypothesis is that viruses are key drivers in the evolution of present day cellular life and likely played an essential role in the evolution of early life on Earth. We propose that by understanding the diversity of viruses on present day Earth, we will be better able to reconstruct the evolution of viruses and their cellular hosts. A glaring deficiency in our knowledge of virus diversity is associated with viruses that infect hosts belonging to the domain Archaea. We have become experts in the isolation of viruses from hyperthermophilic archaeal hosts that dominate high temperature acidic environments found in hot springs within Yellowstone National Park USA and other thermal sites worldwide. Over the past year, we have expanded our search for archaeal viruses from extreme environments found in high temperature acidic environments in Yellowstone National Park. We have made two major advances over the past year. The first of which was the development of an entirely new way to detect previously unknown viruses using DNA sequences embedded in CRISPR loci within the cellular genomes. This new approach now allows us to access literally thousands of new viruses previously unknown to science. The second major advancement was the preliminary assembly of the first known archaeal RNA virus genomes. Our analysis of these genomes over the coming years will hopefully provide new insights into the evolution of RNA viruses and possibly the role that early RNA-like viruses may have played in the early evolution of life on Earth.

Microarray designed with CRISPR-spacer sequences as probes. This array has been hybridized with viral concentrates collected from various hot springs within Yellowstone National Park.

    Mark Young
    Project Investigator

    Jamie Snyder

    Ben Bolduc
    Doctoral Student

    Objective 5.1
    Environment-dependent, molecular evolution in microorganisms

    Objective 5.2
    Co-evolution of microbial communities

    Objective 5.3
    Biochemical adaptation to extreme environments

    Objective 6.1
    Effects of environmental changes on microbial ecosystems

    Objective 6.2
    Adaptation and evolution of life beyond Earth