Virus-like particles (VLPs) are thought to increase the dissolved organic carbon by releasing the contents of the host cell, which, in turn, can affect bacterial growth in natural aquatic environments. Yet, experimental tests have shown that the effect of VLPs on the bacterial growth rate at different depths has seldom been studied. Bacteria–VLP interaction and the effect of VLPs on bacterial growth rate in the sunlit surface (3 m) and dark, deep ocean (130 m) environments were first explored at a test site in the southern East China Sea of the northwest Pacific. Our experimental results indicated that bacterial and virus-like particle (VLP) abundance decreased with depth from 0.8 ± 0.3 × 105
and 1.8 ± 0.4 × 106
at 3 m to 0.4 ± 0.1 × 105
and 1.4 ± 0.3 × 106
at 130 m. We found that the abundance of VLPs to Bacteria Ratio (VBR) in the dark deep ocean (VBR = 35.0 ± 5.6) was higher than in the sunlit surface environment (VBR = 22.5 ± 2.1). The most interesting finding is that in the dark, deep ocean region the bacterial growth rate in the presence of VLPs was higher (0.05 h−1
) than that in virus-diluted treatments (0.01 h−1
). However, there was no significant difference in the bacterial growth rates between the treatments in the sunlit surface ocean region. Deep-sea ecosystems are dark and extreme environments that lack primary photosynthetic production, and our estimates imply that the contribution of recycled carbon by viral lysis is highly significant for bacterial growth in the dark, deep ocean environment. Further work for more study sites is needed to identify the relationship of VLPs and their hosts to enable us to understand the role of VLPs at different depths in the East China Sea.
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