Diversity of active viral infections within the Sphagnum microbiome

Joshua M.A. Stough, Max Kolton, Joel E. Kostka, David J. Weston, Dale A. Pelletier, Steven W. Wilhelm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Sphagnum-dominated peatlands play an important role in global carbon storage and represent significant sources of economic and ecological value. While recent efforts to describe microbial diversity and metabolic potential of the Sphagnum microbiome have demonstrated the importance of its microbial community, little is known about the viral constituents. We used metatranscriptomics to describe the diversity and activity of viruses infecting microbes within the Sphagnum peat bog. The vegetative portions of six Sphagnum plants were obtained from a peatland in northern Minnesota, and the total RNA was extracted and sequenced. Metatranscriptomes were assembled and contigs were screened for the presence of conserved virus marker genes. Using bacteriophage capsid protein gp23 as a marker for phage diversity, we identified 33 contigs representing undocumented phages that were active in the community at the time of sampling. Similarly, RNAdependent RNA polymerase and the nucleocytoplasmic large DNA virus (NCLDV) major capsid protein were used as markers for single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) viruses and NCLDV, respectively. In total, 114 contigs were identified as originating from undescribed ssRNA viruses, 22 of which represent nearly complete genomes. An additional 64 contigs were identified as being from NCLDVs. Finally, 7 contigs were identified as putative virophage or polinton-like viruses. We developed co-occurrence networks with these markers in relation to the expression of potential-host housekeeping gene rpb1 to predict virus-host relationships, identifying 13 groups. Together, our approach offers new tools for the identification of virus diversity and interactions in understudied clades and suggests that viruses may play a considerable role in the ecology of the Sphagnum microbiome.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01124-18
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number23
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Microbial ecology
  • Peat bogs
  • RNA-seq
  • Sphagnum
  • Viruses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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