Michigan State dives into aquatic virus research: BTN LiveBIG

©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Michigan State dives into aquatic virus research: BTN LiveBIG

Take a dip in Lake Michigan or wade into the Red Cedar River, and it’s abundantly clear that you’re surrounded by life. There are plants gently swaying and fish swimming by, but the underwater microbiome is far more populous than what meets the eye.

Trillions of microorganisms inhabit our waterways, from bacteria to phytoplankton to the most abundant, viruses. Yet, little is known of our practically invisible neighbors.

Now, researchers from Michigan State University are teaming up with Chicago’s John G. Shedd Aquarium to study interactions between viruses, humans and aquatic life using various exhibits as their living laboratories. Samples will be pulled from Shedd’s Wild Reef environment, the At Home on the Great Lakes exhibit and the Abbott Oceanarium.

“With greater understanding we can better protect aquatic life,” says MSU’s Joan Rose, the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate and Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “Our goal is to learn how to provide healthier aquatic environments for animals and plants.”

The research team hopes to broaden the understanding of both naturally-occurring viruses and the role humans play in introducing alien strains to aquatic environments and wildlife.

Part of the Shedd Microbiome Project, Rose and her team, which includes MSU postdoctoral researcher Jean Pierre Nshimyimana and William Van Bonn, the aquarium’s vice president of animal health, says that there work will touch on the health and bio-stability of our waterways.

“The Shedd Microbiome Project provides an exciting opportunity to learn more about elusive viruses and apply this knowledge to protect the biohealth of the planet,” Rose said.