Viral Community Structure and Potential Functions in the Dried-Out Aral Sea Basin Change along a Desiccation Gradient

Wisnu Adi Wicaksono, Dilfuza Egamberdieva, Tomislav Cernava, Gabriele Berg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The dried-out Aral Sea basin represents an extreme environment due to a man-made ecological disaster. Studies conducted in this unique environment revealed high levels of pollution and a specifically adapted microbiota; however, viral populations remained entirely unexplored. By employing an in-depth analysis based on the sequencing of metagenomic DNA recovered from rhizosphere samples of Suaeda acuminata (C. A. Mey.) Moq. along a desiccation gradient of 5, 10, and 40 years, we detected a diverse viral community comprising 674 viral populations (viral operational taxonomic units [vOTUs]) dominated by Caudovirales. Targeted analyses highlighted that viral populations in this habitat are subjected to certain dynamics that are driven mainly by the gradient of desiccation, the corresponding salinity, and the rhizosphere bacterial populations. In silico predictions linked the viruses to dominant prokaryotic taxa in the Aral Sea basin, such as Gammaproteobacteria, Actinomycetia, and Bacilli. The lysogenic lifestyle was predicted to be predominant in areas that dried out 5 years ago, representing the early revegetation phase. Metabolic prediction of viral auxiliary metabolic genes (AMGs) suggests that viruses may play a role in the biogeochemical cycles, stress resilience, and competitiveness of their hosts due to the presence of genes that are involved in biofilm formation. Overall, our study provides important insights into viral ecology in an extreme environment and expands our knowledge related to virus occurrence in terrestrial systems.
Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - Jan 10 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2023-01-17
Acknowledgements: We thank Maged Saad (KAUST), Christian Berg, Maximillian Mora, Julia Kranyeck, and Kristina Michl (Graz) for their support during sampling, DNA extractions, sample preparations, and molecular work.
This publication acknowledges KAUST support, but has no KAUST affiliated authors.


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