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Microbiology in the News

Wilhelm Receives John H. Martin Award for Research

Wilhelm Receives John H. Martin Award for Research

The Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) presents the John H. Martin Award to one paper each year that has led to fundamental shifts in research focus and interpretation of a large body of previous observations.

The 2021 John H. Martin Award is for “Viruses and nutrient cycles in the sea,” by Steven Wilhelm (University of Tennessee) and Curtis Suttle (University of British Columbia). The award will be presented at the 2021 ASLO Aquatic Sciences Virtual Meeting in June.

Wilhelm and Suttle’s foundational 1999 paper originated the concept of the ‘viral shunt,’ the phenomenon in which viral infection of marine microbes redirects flow of organic matter away from higher trophic levels and through the microbial loop. Drawing on early estimates of viral production in the water column, Wilhelm and Suttle shined a light on the considerable role viruses play in ocean biogeochemical cycles at a time when much of the research was focused on describing viral diversity and distribution. Their calculations showed that a staggering 25% of all photosynthetically fixed carbon, and associated nutrients, in the ocean may be recycled through the viral shunt.

Additionally, Wilhelm and Suttle made some of the first estimates of the total carbon stored in the viral pool and made eye-opening comparisons to the carbon stored in other types of marine organisms (including whales). Today, the concept of the viral shunt continues to influence our understanding of ocean ecosystem functioning and nutrient cycles. With >1000 citations, and more than 300 in the last five years, the legacy of “Viruses and nutrient cycles in the sea” and the viral shunt concept is still strongly felt in the field today.

“Every so often a novel concept is described which truly transforms a scientific field for decades,” says ASLO President Roxane Maranger. “Wilhelm and Suttle’s conception of the ‘viral shunt’ as a major pathway of oceanic carbon and nutrient flow in their 1999 paper is a stunning example of such a transformation.”

Full Citation: Wilhelm, S.W. and C.A. Suttle. 1999. Viruses and nutrient cycles in the sea, BioScience 49(10): 781-788.

ASLO is an international aquatic science society that was founded in 1948. For more than 60 years, it has been the leading professional organization for researchers and educators in the field of aquatic science. The purpose of ASLO is to foster a diverse, international scientific community that creates, integrates and communicates knowledge across the full spectrum of aquatic sciences, advances public awareness and education about aquatic resources and research, and promotes scientific stewardship of aquatic resources for the public interest. Its products and activities are directed toward these ends. With more than 3,800 members worldwide, the society has earned an outstanding reputation and is best known for its journals, interdisciplinary meetings, and special symposia. For more information about ASLO, please visit our website at  

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