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Summary

Many podoviruses have been isolated which infect marine picocyanobacteria, and they may play a potentially important role in regulating the biomass and population composition of picocyanobacteria. However, little is known about the diversity and population dynamics of autochthonous cyanopodoviruses in marine environments. Using a set of newly designed PCR primers which specifically amplify the DNA pol from cyanopodoviruses, a total of 221 DNA pol sequences were retrieved from eight Chesapeake Bay virioplankton communities collected at different times and locations. All DNA pol sequences clustered with the eight known podoviruses that infect different marine picocyanobacteria, and could be divided into at least 10 different subclusters (I-X). The presence of these cyanopodovirus genotypes based on PCR-amplification of DNA pol gene sequences was supported by the existence of similar DNA pol genotypes with metagenome libraries of Chesapeake Bay virioplankton assemblages. The composition of cyanopodoviruses in the Bay also exhibited distinct winter and summer patterns which were likely related to corresponding seasonal changes in the composition of cyanobacterial populations. Our study suggests that diverse and dynamic populations of cyanopodoviruses are present in the estuarine environment. The PCR method developed in this study provides a specific and sensitive tool to explore the abundance, distribution and phylogenetic diversity of cyanopodoviruses in aquatic environments. Linking the dynamics of host and viral populations in the natural environment is critical to broader characterization of the ecological role of virioplankton within microbial communities.