Viruses are the most abundant biological agents in the global marine environment. Through cellular lysis viruses influence many biogeochemical and ecological processes, including energy and nutrient cycling, host distribution and abundance, algal bloom control and genetic transfer. Nano- and picophytoplankton are ubiquitous in the world’s oceans and are responsible for a high proportion of the annual global carbon fixation. However, relatively few viruses have been isolated and described that infect these key primary producers and little is known of their diversity, dynamics or propagation strategies. The aims of this study were to detect, isolate and characterise novel marine viruses that infect these important members of the phytoplankton assemblage. Screening of seawater samples for viruses that infect a broad representation of nano and picophytoplankton species was undertaken here. To enable this, a large culture collection of 106 phytoplankton species was established and used to screen seawater samples for viruses on a weekly basis over a two year period. A total of 12 novel viruses infecting the prasinophyte species’ Ostreococcus tauri and Micromonas pusilla were isolated from seawater sampled in coastal waters of the Western English Channel. Viruses were purified by plaque purification or liquid serial dilution techniques. Characterisation of novel virus isolates included growth kinetics, visualisation using transmission electron microscopy, host range analysis and estimates of viral genome sizes using pulsed field gel electrophoresis. Phylogenetic analysis of these viruses was conducted based on the sequence of the conserved DNA polymerase gene. Genome sequencing of two of the viruses infecting O. tauri was completed and revealed many exciting features, including a suite of genes hitherto unreported, or with rare occurrence, in viruses. Evidence is presented for horizontal gene transfer between viruses isolated in this study and their hosts, as well as between other eukaryotic and bacterial sources. Functional characterisation of the viral genomes sequenced and described in this study will provide clearer insights into viral dynamics and evolutionary history
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