Uncovering Earth's virome

Nature. 2016 Aug 25;536(7617):425-30. doi: 10.1038/nature19094. Epub 2016 Aug 17.


Viruses are the most abundant biological entities on Earth, but challenges in detecting, isolating, and classifying unknown viruses have prevented exhaustive surveys of the global virome. Here we analysed over 5 Tb of metagenomic sequence data from 3,042 geographically diverse samples to assess the global distribution, phylogenetic diversity, and host specificity of viruses. We discovered over 125,000 partial DNA viral genomes, including the largest phage yet identified, and increased the number of known viral genes by 16-fold. Half of the predicted partial viral genomes were clustered into genetically distinct groups, most of which included genes unrelated to those in known viruses. Using CRISPR spacers and transfer RNA matches to link viral groups to microbial host(s), we doubled the number of microbial phyla known to be infected by viruses, and identified viruses that can infect organisms from different phyla. Analysis of viral distribution across diverse ecosystems revealed strong habitat-type specificity for the vast majority of viruses, but also identified some cosmopolitan groups. Our results highlight an extensive global viral diversity and provide detailed insight into viral habitat distribution and host–virus interactions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquatic Organisms / virology
  • Bacteriophages / genetics
  • Biodiversity
  • Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats / genetics
  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Datasets as Topic
  • Earth, Planet*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Genes, Viral
  • Genome, Viral / genetics*
  • Host Specificity
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Metagenome / genetics
  • Metagenomics*
  • Phylogeny
  • Phylogeography
  • RNA, Transfer / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis
  • Viruses / classification
  • Viruses / genetics*
  • Viruses / isolation & purification


  • DNA, Viral
  • RNA, Transfer