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Acquisition and maintenance of resistance to viruses in eukaryotic phytoplankton populations


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Viruses are known to play a key role in the regulation of eukaryotic phytoplankton population densities; however, little is known about the mechanisms of how they interact with their hosts and how phytoplankton populations mediate their regulations. Viruses are obligate parasites that depend on host cell machinery for their dissemination in the environment (most of the time through host cell lysis that liberates many new particles). But viruses also depend on a reliable host population to carry on their replication before losing their viability. How do hosts cells survive when they coexist with their viruses? We show that clonal lines of three picoeukaryotic green algae (i.e. Bathycoccus sp., Micromonas sp., Ostreococcus tauri) reproducibly acquire resistance to their specific viruses following a round of infection. Our observations show that two mechanisms of resistance may operate in O. tauri. In the first resistant type, viruses can attach to their host cells but no new particles develop. In the second one, O. tauri acquires tolerance to its virus and releases these viruses consistently. These lines maintained their resistance over a 3-year period, irrespective of whether or not they were re-challenged with new viral inoculations. Co-culturing resistant and susceptible lines revealed resistance to be associated with reduced host fitness in terms of growth rate.