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Curtis Suttle, Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, The University of British Columbia, provides an overview of his work studying viruses that live in the oceans as he explains the ecological importance of viruses and much more.

Podcast Points:

  • Just how important are viruses to population and change?
  • What viruses do to exist and fulfill their missions
  • How do viruses infect cells?

Suttle talks about his background, and how his early years as a sailing enthusiast opened his mind to the possibilities of learning more about the oceans. Upon discovering research vessels on his early voyages, he was intrigued about their missions.

He discusses his PhD work and some of those he worked with who were already studying bacteria. As Suttle explains, bacteria are important, critical actually, to the balance of the oceans. And in fact, more than 95% of the living material in the oceans, by weight, is microscopic. To put this in perspective, these microbes produce about one-half of the oxygen on the planet.

Continuing, the PhD discusses his work investigating ecology and viruses, moving into his later studies and experiments studying viruses that might infect phytoplankton. Additionally, Suttle shares the interesting stories from his childhood, as he and his family circumnavigated the globe on their small sailboat. He discusses his journey and the people they met, and how they were able to survive and provide for themselves, etc. 

Getting back to his remarks on viruses, Suttle explains the paradigm shift that has occurred, in terms of what we know about the ocean’s microorganisms. Cycles are quick and the implications are large, and ultimately it is the microbes that are driving much of the change.

Suttle explains how viruses have an important role of maintaining balance within a species, and when there is an overabundance, viruses advance and effectively control the expansion of species. Suttle explains how viruses are incredibly diverse and how they can encode complex genetic information in regard to DNA and RNA.

Suttle talks about his early grant proposals for viral discovery, and how he came to study certain areas within his field. He expounds upon the overwhelming number of viruses that exist all over the world, and how they even exist above us, in the atmosphere. 

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