Blooms of the brown tide organism Aureococcus anophagefferens have recurred in the coastal bays in New Jersey since 1995 and in the coastal bays of Long Island since 1985. Intracellular viral-like particles (VLPs) were documented during 1999-2000 brown tide blooms in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, but it was not determined whether cells were infected during the termination of the bloom. The objective of this study was to determine if VLPs infected and lysed natural Populations of A. anophagefferens in coastal bays of New Jersey and New York in 2002 with the same frequency as in 1999-2000 and especially at the termination of the bloom. Our results confirmed that the highest percentage (37.5%) of VLP-infected cells occurred at the termination of the brown tide bloom in New Jersey in 2002. Intracellular VLPs were present throughout the bloom event. The percentage of visibly infected cells was higher at the beginning of the bloom than during the peak of the bloom. The intracellular VLPs in natural populations of A. anophagefferens were consistent in size and shape (approximately 140 nm in diameter) and comparable to those in previous studies. Concentrated viral isolates, prepared from waters during brown tide blooms in New York and New Jersey in 2002, infected healthy laboratory A. anophagefferens cultures in vitro. The viral isolates associated with the highest laboratory viral activity (lysis positive) were concentrated from water samples having the highest viral and bacteria concentrations. The intracellular viruses in these virally infected laboratory cultures of A. anophagefferens were similar in size and shape to those found in natural populations. The successful isolation of a virus specific to A. anophagefferens from a brown tide bloom in the field, the similarity of ultrastructure of VLPs infecting both natural populations and laboratory infected cultures, and the pattern of VLP infection during bloom activity in combination with the observed high percentage of VLP-infected cells during bloom termination, supports the hypothesis that viruses may be a major source of mortality for brown tide blooms in regional coastal bays of New Jersey and New York.
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