Application of the major capsid protein as a marker of the phylogenetic diversity of Emiliania huxleyi viruses


  • Editor: Patricia Sobecky

  • Present address: Janet M. Rowe, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68583-0900, USA.

Correspondence: Steven W. Wilhelm, Department of Microbiology, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-0845, USA. Tel.: +1 865 974 0665; fax: +1 865 974 4007; e-mail:


Studies of the Phycodnaviridae have traditionally relied on the DNA polymerase (pol) gene as a biomarker. However, recent investigations have suggested that the major capsid protein (MCP) gene may be a reliable phylogenetic biomarker. We used MCP gene amplicons gathered across the North Atlantic to assess the diversity of Emiliania huxleyi-infecting Phycodnaviridae. Nucleotide sequences were examined across >6000 km of open ocean, with comparisons between concentrates of the virus-size fraction of seawater and of lysates generated by exposing host strains to these same virus concentrates. Analyses revealed that many sequences were only sampled once, while several were over-represented. Analyses also revealed nucleotide sequences distinct from previous coastal isolates. Examination of lysed cultures revealed a new richness in phylogeny, as MCP sequences previously unrepresented within the existing collection of E. huxleyi viruses (EhV) were associated with viruses lysing cultures. Sequences were compared with previously described EhV MCP sequences from the North Sea and a Norwegian Fjord, as well as from the Gulf of Maine. Principal component analysis indicates that location-specific distinctions exist despite the presence of sequences common across these environments. Overall, this investigation provides new sequence data and an assessment on the use of the MCP gene.