In this oversized outdoor research laboratory, scientists have made an unexpected discovery, finding 16 rare 'giant' viruses that are completely new to science.
"We were not looking for giant viruses," says biologist Jeff Blanchard from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass).
"Our goal was to isolate bacteria directly from the environment to understand how microbial communities are changing in response to soil warming.".
These giant viruses were only discovered this century, and up until now they've usually been found in aquatic habitats.
For that reason alone the Harvard Forest discovery is remarkable, as this represents the first time giant viruses have been discovered in a terrestrial ecosystem, and all from a single clump of dirt.
According to the researchers, the approach could make it easier than ever to identify viruses in the soil metagenome in the future.
"Soil is immensely diverse," says one of the UMass researchers, Lauren Alteio, "and we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the organisms and viruses that inhabit it.". »