Imaging Techniques for Detecting Prokaryotic Viruses in Environmental Samples
Viruses are the most abundant biological entities on Earth with an estimate of 1031 viral particles across all ecosystems. Prokaryotic viruses—bacteriophages and archaeal viruses—influence global biogeochemical cycles by shaping microbial communities through predation, through the effect of horizontal gene transfer on the host genome evolution, and through manipulating the host cellular metabolism. Imaging techniques have played an important role in understanding the biology and lifestyle of prokaryotic viruses. Specifically, structure-resolving microscopy methods, for example, transmission electron microscopy, are commonly used for understanding viral morphology, ultrastructure, and host interaction. These methods have been applied mostly to cultivated phage–host pairs. However, recent advances in environmental genomics have demonstrated that the majority of viruses remain uncultivated, and thus microscopically uncharacterized. Although light- and structure-resolving microscopy of viruses from environmental samples is possible, quite often the link between the visualization and the genomic information of uncultivated prokaryotic viruses is missing. In this minireview, we summarize the current state of the art of imaging techniques available for characterizing viruses in environmental samples and discuss potential links between viral imaging and environmental genomics for shedding light on the morphology of uncultivated viruses and their lifestyles in Earth’s ecosystems.