The elemental composition of virus particles: implications for marine biogeochemical cycles

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2014 Jul;12(7):519-28. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro3289.


In marine environments, virus-mediated lysis of host cells leads to the release of cellular carbon and nutrients and is hypothesized to be a major driver of carbon recycling on a global scale. However, efforts to characterize the effects of viruses on nutrient cycles have overlooked the geochemical potential of the virus particles themselves, particularly with respect to their phosphorus content. In this Analysis article, we use a biophysical scaling model of intact virus particles that has been validated using sequence and structural information to quantify differences in the elemental stoichiometry of marine viruses compared with their microbial hosts. By extrapolating particle-scale estimates to the ecosystem scale, we propose that, under certain circumstances, marine virus populations could make an important contribution to the reservoir and cycling of oceanic phosphorus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophages / metabolism
  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Ecosystem
  • Marine Biology
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Phosphorus / metabolism
  • Virion / metabolism*
  • Viruses / metabolism


  • Phosphorus
  • Carbon