mSystems 4(3) (May 14 2019)
Microbes drive critical ecosystem functions and affect global nutrient cycling along with human health and disease. They do so under strong constraints exerted by viruses, which shape microbial communities’ structure and shift host cell metabolism during infection. While the majority of viruses and their associated impacts remain poorly characterized, a number of mechanisms by which viruses alter microbial cells and ecosystems have already been revealed. Here I outline how a comprehensive host-resolved mapping of viral sequence space will enable a thorough characterization of virus-encoded mechanisms for microbial manipulation. With soon-to-be millions of virus genomes obtained from metagenomes, one of the major challenges resides in the development of methods for high-throughput and high-resolution virus-host pairing, before multi-omics approaches can be leveraged to fully decipher virus-host dynamics in nature. Beyond novel fundamental biological knowledge, these studies will likely provide new molecular tools enabling a precise engineering of microbial cells and communities.