Ocean Viruses & Sulphur Metabolism

For September 25, 2019   
Please spread the word to your friends & neighbors.
Hi WN@TL Fans,
In February 1972 Al Tieken, my ag teacher at Dixon High School, asked me to run a germination test on a half-pound bag of years-old tomato seeds.  He showed me how to array a sample of the seeds in 10 rows and 10 columns on several layers of wet brown paper towels, and how to put them in the seed incubator.  
After a week, hardly any had germinated.  He asked me what I thought; I said the old seed wasn’t any good.  To which he replied, How do you know it wasn’t the incubator?     I was clueless. 
Luckily, Mr. Tieken also had a smaller bag of new seeds.  He suggested I re-run the test with another round of the old seeds but also include a sample of the new seeds, as a “positive control.”
Lo, the second time around, the old seeds were still pretty kaput, while the new seeds germinated just fine.  Clearly the incubator wasn’t the cause of the old seeds’ failure to grow.
Now it was nearly March, so Mr Tieken asked me to transplant the seedlings into a greenhouse flat.  But, he said, I couldn’t touch the seedlings with my hands;  I’d have to make horticultural chop sticks out of two wood sticks to pick up and move the seedlings. 
When I asked him why I couldn’t touch the tomatoes, he replied, “Because your Mom smokes.”  As a 14-yr-old master of repartee, I replied, “So?” Mr Tieken explained, “There’s a virus called tobacco mosaic virus.  It could be in the tobacco in your Mom’s Old Golds.  You could get TMV on your hands just from touching stuff like glassware your Mom has touched.”  I was perplexed:  “But it’s a virus of tobacco, not tomato.”   Mr Tieken said that despite its name, TMV could spread by touch to dozens of species of plants, including tomato.
So in March of 1972 as a freshman in high school I used wood sticks to transplant a  tomato seedlings so I wouldn’t infect them with a tobacco virus.  
In March of 1985 at UW-Madison I defended my PhD thesis in plant pathology on ways plants infected with one strain of TMV can resist secondary infections by a second strain of the virus.
Even in grad school I was an old school virologist:  I was “a plant rubber,”  not a molecular biologist.  It’s been astonishing to see the new galaxies of viruses that researchers have discovered in the past 35 years.  Exquisitely sensitive molecular tools of detection based on DNA and RNA enable people to parse out viruses even when their host isn’t certain.  And the known realm of viruses is no longer limited to the land.
This week (September 25) we venture into the Abyss as Karthik Anantharaman of Bacteriology speaks on “Shining a Light on Dark Ocean Viruses.” As far as I can recall, this will be the first WN@TL talk ever on ocean viruses.  These represent a sea change in how we view mobile infectious genetic particles.  In the courses I took in the early 1980s on plant, animal and bacterial viruses, I don’t ever recall hearing anything about viruses in the bounding main.
Here’s how Karthik describes his talk: 
“Sulfur metabolism plays a critical role in the transformation of organic carbon compounds and nutrients in the environment, human health and disease. Our current knowledge of the ecology associated with this key element is primarily based on based studies of microorganisms that overlook viruses. 
“In this presentation, I will describe the genomic, metabolic, and experimental analyses associated with viruses to implicate them in sulfur and amino acid metabolism and identify new processes that contribute to sulfur transformations in human and environmental systems. 
“I will also demonstrate engineering challenges associated with sampling viruses, especially under pressure in the deep-sea and use high-resolution videos collected from our fieldwork using submarines and robots to describe deep-sea hydrothermal systems.”



About the Speaker
Karthik Anantharaman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He received his Ph.D. in Earth and Environmental Sciences from the University of Michigan in 2014 studying the microbiology of deep-sea hydrothermal vents and conducted his postdoctoral research at the University of California-Berkeley studying biogeochemistry and microbial ecology. 
He is an expert in environmental microbiology and virology, high throughput ‘omics approaches to studying microbiomes, and biogeochemistry. His interdisciplinary research program focuses on understanding the cycling of sulfur and nutrients, with a strong emphasis on the microbial and viral processes that transform them in environmental and human systems. 
His current research uses a combination of cultivation-independent, cultivation-dependent, and field-based approaches to investigate the interplay between the microbiome, virome, and chemistry in hydrothermal plumes, oxygen minimum zones, and the deep oceans.
Next week (October 2Chilton’s own Audrey Gasch, professor of genetics and of medical genetics, will lay out the missions and aspirations of the new Center for Genomic Science Innovation.  
As she writes, “The goal of the center is to foster innovative new ways of reading, studying, and interpreting an organism’s DNA blueprint, called the genome, for broad application in medicine, agriculture, industry, and basic scientific discovery.”    She  will speak about what a genome is, why the field of genome science is important, and how UW-Madison is bringing the benefits of genomics to Wisconsin and the world.
DNA may not be destiny, but I’d like to know what may lurk in my genomic recipe.  
Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.

Thanks again!
Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension