Virus infection of phytoplankton increases average molar mass and reduces hygroscopicity of aerosolized organic matter

Sci Rep. 2023 May 5;13(1):7361. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-33818-4.


Viral infection of phytoplankton is a pervasive mechanism of cell death and bloom termination, which leads to the production of dissolved and colloidal organic matter that can be aerosolized into the atmosphere. Earth-observing satellites can track the growth and death of phytoplankton blooms on weekly time scales but the impact of viral infection on the cloud forming potential of associated aerosols is largely unknown. Here, we determine the influence of viral-derived organic matter, purified viruses, and marine hydrogels on the cloud condensation nuclei activity of their aerosolized solutions, compared to organic exudates from healthy phytoplankton. Dissolved organic material derived from exponentially growing and infected cells of well-characterized eukaryotic phytoplankton host-virus systems, including viruses from diatoms, coccolithophores and chlorophytes, was concentrated, desalted, and nebulized to form aerosol particles composed of primarily of organic matter. Aerosols from infected phytoplankton cultures resulted in an increase in critical activation diameter and average molar mass in three out of five combinations evaluated, along with a decrease in organic kappa (hygroscopicity) compared to healthy cultures and seawater controls. The infected samples also displayed evidence of increased surface tension depression at realistic cloud water vapor supersaturations. Amending the samples with xanthan gum to simulate marine hydrogels increased variability in organic kappa and surface tension in aerosols with high organic to salt ratios. Our findings suggest that the pulses of increased dissolved organic matter associated with viral infection in surface waters may increase the molar mass of dissolved organic compounds relative to surface waters occupied by healthy phytoplankton or low phytoplankton biomass.

PMID:37147322 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-023-33818-4


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