Morphological Characterization of Viruses in the Stratified Water Column of Alkaline, Hypersaline Mono Lake

Microb Ecol. 2010 Oct;60(3):636-43. doi: 10.1007/s00248-010-9688-4. Epub 2010 Jun 3.


Concentrations of viruses and prokaryotes in the alkaline, moderately hypersaline, seasonally stratified Mono Lake are among the highest reported for a natural aquatic environment. We used electron microscopy to test whether viral morphological characteristics differed among the epilimnion, metalimnion, and the anoxic hypolimnion of the lake and to determine how the properties of viruses in Mono Lake compare to other aquatic environments. Viral capsid size distributions were more similar in the metalimnion and hypolimnion of Mono Lake, while viral tail lengths were more similar in the epilimnion and metalimnion. The percentage of tailed viruses decreased with depth and the relative percentages of tailed phage families changed with depth. The presence of large (>125 nm capsid), untailed viruses in the metalimnion and hypolimnion suggests that eukaryotic viruses are produced in these suboxic and anoxic, hypersaline environments. Capsid diameters of viruses were larger on average in Mono Lake compared to other aquatic environments, and no lemon-shaped or filamentous viruses were found, in contrast to other high-salinity or high-altitude lakes and seas. Our data suggest that the physically and chemically distinct layers of Mono Lake harbor different viral assemblages, and that these assemblages are distinct from other aquatic environments that have been studied. Furthermore, we found that filtration of a sample through a 0.22-µm pore-size filter significantly altered the distribution of viral capsid diameters and tail lengths, resulting in a relative depletion of viruses having larger capsids and longer tails. This observation highlights the potential for bias in molecular surveys of viral diversity, which typically rely on filtration through 0.2- or 0.22-µm pore-size membrane filters to remove bacteria during sample preparation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biota
  • Capsid / physiology
  • Fresh Water / chemistry
  • Fresh Water / virology
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Salinity*
  • Viruses / isolation & purification*
  • Viruses / ultrastructure
  • Water Microbiology*