Eric Wommack, a University of Delaware researcher,
is studying one of the most mysterious organisms
found in the ocean: marine viruses.
many of us associate "virus" only with "illness," Dr.
Wommack says viruses can help scientists mine a treasure
trove of information about how cells work.
wonderful thing about viruses is that they carry
around DNA," he says. "Outside of a host
cell, they are inert. But once a virus infects a
host, whether that host is a bacterium or a human
being, that virus knows how to exploit the organism's
cells. So we can learn a lot about how a cell works
Wommack has designed a special filtration system
to capture the tiny viruses in vent water. Their
average size is only 60 nanometers, which is 60 millionths
of a centimeter or 23 millionths of an inch! Once
the "bugs" are caught, he will use an electron
microscope to examine them, characterize them by
shape, and count them.
outnumber other organisms by a factor of 10 in marine
communities," he says. "So they're definitely
an important part of how the ecosystem functions.
I'm really excited about studying viruses at the
vents. Vent communities consist of especially unique
organisms," he notes. "If the hosts are
unusual, their viruses will be as well."
Wommack is shown
with the Large Volume Water Sampler (LVWS) he deployed
during Extreme 2001 to collect large volumes of vent
water (and hopefully, viruses).The video clip shows Alvin releasing
a lever on the LVWS to begin water collection. Explore
the Daily Journals from Extreme
2001 to find out what happened to the first LVWS. A
new LVWS was deployed during Extreme 2003 and will
be used again for Extreme 2004.