The COVID-19 pandemic is a cruel reminder of the profound impact viruses can have on human health. Equally important is the effect viruses have on ecosystems. In oceans, for example, just one teaspoon of seawater harbors millions of viruses. They are the most abundant biological entity on Earth, and they may play a key role in the carbon cycle. Yet quantitative data on their impacts are still sparse, so global ecosystem models do not account for them.
SFI Complexity Postdoctoral Fellow Daniel Muratore hopes to help fill that gap in understanding. They study how marine viruses influence the movement of carbon from the surface to the deep ocean — a major carbon reservoir. To decode how viruses affect microbes and nutrient cycles in the ocean, they use methods from a variety of disciplines, including theoretical ecology, machine learning, microbial ecology, and biogeochemical modeling.
At SFI, Muratore, who is equally at home collecting samples from the open sea as analyzing large data sets at a computer, plans to build on their experience unlocking the secrets of marine microbes and carbon cycles to come up with a theoretical framework for understanding the role of viruses in the “export” of organic matter to the deep ocean. They also aim to create new collaborations among theorists and empiricists to help further understanding of the variability in carbon fluxes at a global scale. Ultimately, Muratore hopes this work will help improve global ecosystem models — and our understanding of Earth’s response to the changing climate. Arriving Sept. 2022, supported by the Omidyar Network.