Matthew Sullivan, a microbiologist at Ohio State University and one of the authors of the study, called for a roadmap for understanding how viruses affect ecosystems in the ocean.
"Having that road map helps us do many things that we would be interested in better understanding the ocean and, I hate to say it, but maybe I should make the ocean at some point in the fight against climate change," Sullivan said CNN.
The study found that viruses are organized into five different ecological zones around the ocean.
Also, new hotbeds of biodiversity have been discovered – areas that are rich in species, but also endangered by human activity. Some of the most surprising hotspots they discovered were in the Arctic Ocean.
Why the study is important
New discoveries about the biological diversity of the Arctic are important because they provide a starting point for further research in the region – one of the hardest hit by climate change. Now scientists know that the Arctic is home to so many types of viruses, they can explore why this is exactly and how much of the biodiversity will be lost, while climate change continues to affect the region, Sullivan said.
The research also creates a massive set of data that has biotechnological implications.
"Viruses tend to steal genes and make really interesting things with them. So somebody who is a talent in biotechnology can use this data to find new enzymes that can help us in our everyday life, whether it's cosmetic products or creates a new thermocycle or some kind of engineering process, "explained Sullivan.
One rotating team of scientists boarded a sailboat called Tara between 2009 and 2013 and collected samples of water from different depths across many geographic regions. These samples were then filtered and handed over to dozens of different laboratories that are part of efforts known as the Tara Ocean Consortium.
The implications of the study
The study could also help scientists better understand how viruses affect the Earth's atmosphere – and how viruses can help mitigate the effects of climate change, said Sullivan.
Marine organisms produce half the oxygen we breathe, and the ocean removes half of the carbon dioxide released by humans into the atmosphere, acting as Sullivan calls it a "sponge for climate change." This process is largely controlled by viruses.
Through this research, Sullivan said, scientists could potentially create oceans to combat climate change – which means they could manipulate viruses in ways that would remove even more carbon dioxide from the air.
"There is a lot of understanding about what should happen in order to do it in a socially responsible way, but I think that this type of study provides a good basis for starting to think that way," Sullivan said.