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Advanced Research of Virus Activities

Human Pathogenic Virus in the Marine Environment

- Coronavirus Research -

March 2021

What do viruses do in the oceans? 

The world's oceans are teeming with viruses, yet we are at the edge of our understanding on how they impact ocean health and function. A litre of seawater typically contains billions of viruses – the vast majority of which remain unidentified. The demands exerted by the expanding world population and industry make the marine environment increasingly susceptible to pollution from municipal sewage, industrial effluents, and agricultural wastes. Seawater pollution control relies on secondary treatment of sewage and on the theoretically infinite dilution of wastes in the receiving waters. However, the marine environment, including oceans, has a finite ability to receive and recover from waste disposal practices, and certainly is incapable of unlimited waste assimilation.

Viruses are shed in extremely high numbers in the feces of infected individuals: e.g., patients suffering from gastroenteritis or hepatitis may excrete from 105 to 1011 virus particles per gram of stool (Farthing, 1989). Viruses are present in high numbers in raw wastewater and current water treatment practices fail to ensure the complete removal of viral pathogens (Rao & Melnick, 1986); consequently, viruses become environmental pollutants. 

Present in sewage contaminated waters are well over 100 virus species able to cause a wide spectrum of illnesses in mankind including hepatitis, gastroenteritis, meningitis, fever, rash, conjunctivitis, and may be diabetes or SARS Coronavirus. In November 2002, the initial cases of the emerging disease denominated “severe acute respiratory syndrome” or SARS were reported (Ksiazek et al., 2003). Although the primary mode of transmission of the SARS coronavirus appears to be direct mucous membrane contact with infectious respiratory droplets and/or through exposure to fomites, the role of fecal–oral transmission is unknown. In spite that several coronaviruses are spread by this route, there is no current evidence that this mode of transmission plays a key role in the transmission of SARS, although there is a considerable shedding of the virus in stool, where it remains stable at room temperature for several weeks.  Ocean Sea Foundation is finally helping researchers "see" viruses hidden in the Arctic and determine whether if the SARS Coronavirus and COVID-19 it can be transmitted through water contamination to human.


Spitsbergen, the largest of the Svalbard islands, is located on the border between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean and its marine ecosystems can be considered privileged observers to study changes relating to climate change and human anthropogenic impact.

Traces of pathogens are found naturally in any ecosystem, but their concentration can be significantly increased by human activity, posing a threat to the environment and health. In particular, pathogenic micro-organisms are introduced into the Arctic marine environment through local inputs and long-range transport processes guided by oceanic and atmospheric circulation. Here, pathogens are taken up by living organisms and biomagnified through the marine food web. The main objective of the project is therefore to obtain a better knowledge of the presence, sources and transport paths of pathogenic microorganisms transported in the Arctic through suspended marine particulates, an important pathogen transporter in the oceans. In particular, the study will focus on elements with a biological role, such as SARS Coronavirus, COVID-19, Enterovirus, Mastadenoviris.

Before each sampling, conductivity, temperature, density, fluorescence and turbidity will be determined along the water column by a CTD profiling probe. Then, the seawater samples will be collected at various depths according to the CTD profile and will be analyzed using specific techniques for the determination of viruses. The data obtained will allow us to evaluate the contamination of sea water by pathogenic microorganisms and to better understand the complex paths through which these contaminants are transported to the Arctic from anthropogenic and natural sources.

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