Quantification of diverse virus populations in the environment using the polony method

Nava Baran, Svetlana Goldin, Ilia Maidanik, Debbie Lindell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Viruses are globally abundant and extremely diverse in their genetic make-up and in the hosts they infect. Although they influence the abundance, diversity and evolution of their hosts, current methods are inadequate for gaining a quantitative understanding of their impact on these processes. Here we report the adaptation of the solid-phase single-molecule PCR polony method for the quantification of taxonomically relevant groups of diverse viruses. Using T7-like cyanophages as our model, we found the polony method to be far superior to regular quantitative PCR methods and droplet digital PCR when degenerate primers were used to encompass the group's diversity. This method revealed that T7-like cyanophages were highly abundant in the Red Sea in spring 2013, reaching 770,000 phages ml-1, and displaying a similar depth distribution pattern to cyanobacteria. Furthermore, the abundances of two major clades within the T7-like cyanophages differed dramatically throughout the water column: clade B phages that carry the psbA photosynthesis gene and infect either Synechococcus or Prochlorococcus were at least 20-fold more abundant than clade A phages that lack psbA and infect Synechococcus hosts. Such measurements are of paramount importance for understanding virus population dynamics and the impact of viruses on different microbial taxa and for modelling viral influence on ecosystem functioning on a global scale.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-72
Number of pages11
JournalNature Microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology


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