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1.  Temperate Phages Acquire DNA from Defective Prophages by Relaxed Homologous Recombination: The Role of Rad52-Like Recombinases 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(3):e1004181.
Bacteriophages (or phages) dominate the biosphere both numerically and in terms of genetic diversity. In particular, genomic comparisons suggest a remarkable level of horizontal gene transfer among temperate phages, favoring a high evolution rate. Molecular mechanisms of this pervasive mosaicism are mostly unknown. One hypothesis is that phage encoded recombinases are key players in these horizontal transfers, thanks to their high efficiency and low fidelity. Here, we associate two complementary in vivo assays and a bioinformatics analysis to address the role of phage encoded recombinases in genomic mosaicism. The first assay allowed determining the genetic determinants of mosaic formation between lambdoid phages and Escherichia coli prophage remnants. In the second assay, recombination was monitored between sequences on phage λ, and allowed to compare the performance of three different Rad52-like recombinases on the same substrate. We also addressed the importance of homologous recombination in phage evolution by a genomic comparison of 84 E. coli virulent and temperate phages or prophages. We demonstrate that mosaics are mainly generated by homology-driven mechanisms that tolerate high substrate divergence. We show that phage encoded Rad52-like recombinases act independently of RecA, and that they are relatively more efficient when the exchanged fragments are divergent. We also show that accessory phage genes orf and rap contribute to mosaicism. A bioinformatics analysis strengthens our experimental results by showing that homologous recombination left traces in temperate phage genomes at the borders of recently exchanged fragments. We found no evidence of exchanges between virulent and temperate phages of E. coli. Altogether, our results demonstrate that Rad52-like recombinases promote gene shuffling among temperate phages, accelerating their evolution. This mechanism may prove to be more general, as other mobile genetic elements such as ICE encode Rad52-like functions, and play an important role in bacterial evolution itself.
Author Summary
Temperate bacteriophages (or phages) are bacterial viruses that, unlike virulent phages, have the ability to enter a prophage dormant state upon infection, in which they stably replicate with the bacterial genome. A majority of bacterial genomes contain multiple active or defective prophages, and numerous bacterial phenotypes are modified by these prophages, such as increased virulence. These mobile genetic elements are subject to high levels of genetic exchanges, through which new genes are constantly imported into bacterial genomes. Phage-encoded homologous recombination enzymes, or recombinases, are potentially key actors in phage genome shuffling. In this work, we show that gene acquisition in temperate phages is strongly dependent on the presence of sequence homology, but is highly tolerant to divergence. We report that gene exchanges are mainly catalyzed by recombinases found on temperate phages, and show that four different Rad52-like recombinases have a relaxed fidelity in vivo, compared to RecA. This high capacity of exchange speeds up evolution of phages, and indirectly also the evolution of bacteria.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004181
PMCID: PMC3945230  PMID: 24603854
2.  Manipulating or Superseding Host Recombination Functions: A Dilemma That Shapes Phage Evolvability 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(9):e1003825.
Phages, like many parasites, tend to have small genomes and may encode autonomous functions or manipulate those of their hosts'. Recombination functions are essential for phage replication and diversification. They are also nearly ubiquitous in bacteria. The E. coli genome encodes many copies of an octamer (Chi) motif that upon recognition by RecBCD favors repair of double strand breaks by homologous recombination. This might allow self from non-self discrimination because RecBCD degrades DNA lacking Chi. Bacteriophage Lambda, an E. coli parasite, lacks Chi motifs, but escapes degradation by inhibiting RecBCD and encoding its own autonomous recombination machinery. We found that only half of 275 lambdoid genomes encode recombinases, the remaining relying on the host's machinery. Unexpectedly, we found that some lambdoid phages contain extremely high numbers of Chi motifs concentrated between the phage origin of replication and the packaging site. This suggests a tight association between replication, packaging and RecBCD-mediated recombination in these phages. Indeed, phages lacking recombinases strongly over-represent Chi motifs. Conversely, phages encoding recombinases and inhibiting host recombination machinery select for the absence of Chi motifs. Host and phage recombinases use different mechanisms and the latter are more tolerant to sequence divergence. Accordingly, we show that phages encoding their own recombination machinery have more mosaic genomes resulting from recent recombination events and have more diverse gene repertoires, i.e. larger pan genomes. We discuss the costs and benefits of superseding or manipulating host recombination functions and how this decision shapes phage genome structure and evolvability.
Author Summary
Bacterial viruses, called bacteriophages, are extremely abundant in the biosphere. They have key roles in the regulation of bacterial populations and in the diversification of bacterial genomes. Among these viruses, lambdoid phages are very abundant in enterobacteria and exchange genetic material very frequently. This latter process is thought to increase phage diversity and therefore facilitate adaptation to hosts. Recombination is also essential for the replication of many lambdoid phages. Lambdoids have been described to encode their own recombination genes and inhibit their hosts'. In this study, we show that lambdoids are split regarding their capacity to encode autonomous recombination functions and that this affects the abundance of recombination-related sequence motifs. Half of the phages encode an autonomous system and inhibit their hosts'. The trade-off between superseding and manipulating the hosts' recombination functions has important consequences. The phages encoding autonomous recombination functions have more diverse gene repertoires and recombine more frequently. Viruses, as many other parasites, have small genomes and depend on their hosts for several housekeeping functions. Hence, they often face trade-offs between supersession and manipulation of molecular machineries. Our results suggest these trade-offs may shape viral gene repertoires, their sequence composition and even influence their evolvability.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003825
PMCID: PMC3784561  PMID: 24086157
3.  Sequence variability of Campylobacter temperate bacteriophages 
BMC Microbiology  2008;8:49.
Background
Prophages integrated within the chromosomes of Campylobacter jejuni isolates have been demonstrated very recently. Prior work with Campylobacter temperate bacteriophages, as well as evidence from prophages in other enteric bacteria, suggests these prophages might have a role in the biology and virulence of the organism. However, very little is known about the genetic variability of Campylobacter prophages which, if present, could lead to differential phenotypes in isolates carrying the phages versus those that do not. As a first step in the characterization of C. jejuni prophages, we investigated the distribution of prophage DNA within a C. jejuni population assessed the DNA and protein sequence variability within a subset of the putative prophages found.
Results
Southern blotting of C. jejuni DNA using probes from genes within the three putative prophages of the C. jejuni sequenced strain RM 1221 demonstrated the presence of at least one prophage gene in a large proportion (27/35) of isolates tested. Of these, 15 were positive for 5 or more of the 7 Campylobacter Mu-like phage 1 (CMLP 1, also designated Campylobacter jejuni integrated element 1, or CJIE 1) genes tested. Twelve of these putative prophages were chosen for further analysis. DNA sequencing of a 9,000 to 11,000 nucleotide region of each prophage demonstrated a close homology with CMLP 1 in both gene order and nucleotide sequence. Structural and sequence variability, including short insertions, deletions, and allele replacements, were found within the prophage genomes, some of which would alter the protein products of the ORFs involved. No insertions of novel genes were detected within the sequenced regions. The 12 prophages and RM 1221 had a % G+C very similar to C. jejuni sequenced strains, as well as promoter regions characteristic of C. jejuni. None of the putative prophages were successfully induced and propagated, so it is not known if they were functional or if they represented remnant prophage DNA in the bacterial chromosomes.
Conclusion
These putative prophages form a family of phages with conserved sequences, and appear to be adapted to Campylobacter. There was evidence for recombination among groups of prophages, suggesting that the prophages had a mosaic structure. In many of these properties, the Mu-like CMLP 1 homologs characterized in this study resemble temperate bacteriophages of enteric bacteria that are responsible for contributions to virulence and host adaptation.
doi:10.1186/1471-2180-8-49
PMCID: PMC2323383  PMID: 18366706
4.  The Defective Prophage Pool of Escherichia coli O157: Prophage–Prophage Interactions Potentiate Horizontal Transfer of Virulence Determinants 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(5):e1000408.
Bacteriophages are major genetic factors promoting horizontal gene transfer (HGT) between bacteria. Their roles in dynamic bacterial genome evolution have been increasingly highlighted by the fact that many sequenced bacterial genomes contain multiple prophages carrying a wide range of genes. Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157 is the most striking case. A sequenced strain (O157 Sakai) possesses 18 prophages (Sp1–Sp18) that encode numerous genes related to O157 virulence, including those for two potent cytotoxins, Shiga toxins (Stx) 1 and 2. However, most of these prophages appeared to contain multiple genetic defects. To understand whether these defective prophages have the potential to act as mobile genetic elements to spread virulence determinants, we looked closely at the Sp1–Sp18 sequences, defined the genetic defects of each Sp, and then systematically analyzed all Sps for their biological activities. We show that many of the defective prophages, including the Stx1 phage, are inducible and released from O157 cells as particulate DNA. In fact, some prophages can even be transferred to other E. coli strains. We also show that new Stx1 phages are generated by recombination between the Stx1 and Stx2 phage genomes. The results indicate that these defective prophages are not simply genetic remnants generated in the course of O157 evolution, but rather genetic elements with a high potential for disseminating virulence-related genes and other genetic traits to other bacteria. We speculate that recombination and various other types of inter-prophage interactions in the O157 prophage pool potentiate such activities. Our data provide new insights into the potential activities of the defective prophages embedded in bacterial genomes and lead to the formulation of a novel concept of inter-prophage interactions in defective prophage communities.
Author Summary
Bacterial viruses, known as bacteriophages or phages, are major factors promoting horizontal gene transfer (HGT) between bacteria, and this activity has sparked new interest in light of the discovery that many sequenced bacterial genomes harbor multiple prophages carrying a wide range of genes, including those related to virulence. However, prophages identified from genome sequences often contain various genetic defects, and they have therefore been regarded as merely genetic vestiges, with no attention paid to their potential activities as mobile genetic elements. Enterohemorraghic Escherichia coli O157, which harbors as many as 18 prophages, is the most striking such example. The O157 prophages carry numerous genes related to O157 virulence, but most possess multiple genetic defects. In this study, we analyze the functionalities of O157 prophages and report that many of the apparently defective prophages are inducible and released from the O157 cells as particulate DNA and that some can be transferred to other E. coli strains. We should therefore regard these prophages as having high potential to disseminate virulence determinants. Our results further suggest that their activities as mobile genetic elements are potentiated by various types of interactions among the prophages, formulating a novel concept of inter-prophage interactions in defective prophage communities.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000408
PMCID: PMC2669165  PMID: 19412337
5.  Chromosomal duplications and cointegrates generated by the bacteriophage lamdba Red system in Escherichia coli K-12 
Background
An Escherichia coli strain in which RecBCD has been genetically replaced by the bacteriophage λ Red system engages in efficient recombination between its chromosome and linear double-stranded DNA species sharing sequences with the chromosome. Previous studies of this experimental system have focused on a gene replacement-type event, in which a 3.5 kbp dsDNA consisting of the cat gene and flanking lac operon sequences recombines with the E. coli chromosome to generate a chloramphenicol-resistant Lac- recombinant. The dsDNA was delivered into the cell as part of the chromosome of a non-replicating λ vector, from which it was released by the action of a restriction endonuclease in the infected cell. This study characterizes the genetic requirements and outcomes of a variety of additional Red-promoted homologous recombination events producing Lac+ recombinants.
Results
A number of observations concerning recombination events between the chromosome and linear DNAs were made: (1) Formation of Lac+ and Lac- recombinants depended upon the same recombination functions. (2) High multiplicity and high chromosome copy number favored Lac+ recombinant formation. (3) The Lac+ recombinants were unstable, segregating Lac- progeny. (4) A tetracycline-resistance marker in a site of the phage chromosome distant from cat was not frequently co-inherited with cat. (5) Recombination between phage sequences in the linear DNA and cryptic prophages in the chromosome was responsible for most of the observed Lac+ recombinants. In addition, observations were made concerning recombination events between the chromosome and circular DNAs: (6) Formation of recombinants depended upon both RecA and, to a lesser extent, Red. (7) The linked tetracycline-resistance marker was frequently co-inherited in this case.
Conclusions
The Lac+ recombinants arise from events in which homologous recombination between the incoming linear DNA and both lac and cryptic prophage sequences in the chromosome generates a partial duplication of the bacterial chromosome. When the incoming DNA species is circular rather than linear, cointegrates are the most frequent type of recombinant.
doi:10.1186/1471-2199-5-22
PMCID: PMC545071  PMID: 15596011
6.  Use of the lambda Red recombinase system to produce recombinant prophages carrying antibiotic resistance genes 
Background
The Red recombinase system of bacteriophage lambda has been used to inactivate chromosomal genes in E. coli K-12 through homologous recombination using linear PCR products. The aim of this study was to induce mutations in the genome of some temperate Shiga toxin encoding bacteriophages. When phage genes are in the prophage state, they behave like chromosomal genes. This enables marker genes, such as antibiotic resistance genes, to be incorporated into the stx gene. Once the phages' lytic cycle is activated, recombinant Shiga toxin converting phages are produced. These phages can transfer the marker genes to the bacteria that they infect and convert. As the Red system's effectiveness decreased when used for our purposes, we had to introduce significant variations to the original method. These modifications included: confirming the stability of the target stx gene increasing the number of cells to be transformed and using a three-step PCR method to produce the amplimer containing the antibiotic resistance gene.
Results
Seven phages carrying two different antibiotic resistance genes were derived from phages that are directly involved in the pathogenesis of Shiga toxin-producing strains, using this modified protocol.
Conclusion
This approach facilitates exploration of the transduction processes and is a valuable tool for studying phage-mediated horizontal gene transfer.
doi:10.1186/1471-2199-7-31
PMCID: PMC1626079  PMID: 16984631
7.  Tight Regulation of the intS Gene of the KplE1 Prophage: A New Paradigm for Integrase Gene Regulation 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(10):e1001149.
Temperate phages have the ability to maintain their genome in their host, a process called lysogeny. For most, passive replication of the phage genome relies on integration into the host's chromosome and becoming a prophage. Prophages remain silent in the absence of stress and replicate passively within their host genome. However, when stressful conditions occur, a prophage excises itself and resumes the viral cycle. Integration and excision of phage genomes are mediated by regulated site-specific recombination catalyzed by tyrosine and serine recombinases. In the KplE1 prophage, site-specific recombination is mediated by the IntS integrase and the TorI recombination directionality factor (RDF). We previously described a sub-family of temperate phages that is characterized by an unusual organization of the recombination module. Consequently, the attL recombination region overlaps with the integrase promoter, and the integrase and RDF genes do not share a common activated promoter upon lytic induction as in the lambda prophage. In this study, we show that the intS gene is tightly regulated by its own product as well as by the TorI RDF protein. In silico analysis revealed that overlap of the attL region with the integrase promoter is widely encountered in prophages present in prokaryotic genomes, suggesting a general occurrence of negatively autoregulated integrase genes. The prediction that these integrase genes are negatively autoregulated was biologically assessed by studying the regulation of several integrase genes from two different Escherichia coli strains. Our results suggest that the majority of tRNA-associated integrase genes in prokaryotic genomes could be autoregulated and that this might be correlated with the recombination efficiency as in KplE1. The consequences of this unprecedented regulation for excisive recombination are discussed.
Author Summary
Temperate bacteriophages are widespread bacterial viruses that have the ability to replicate passively in their hosts as long as no stressful conditions are encountered, a process called lysogeny. Prophage-encoded genes may benefit the host in several ways such as providing resistance to antibiotics, increased pathogenicity, or increased fitness. Most temperate phages insert their genome into the host's chromosome by site-specific recombination. After prophage induction, usually under stressful conditions, the excisive recombination constitutes a key step toward productive phage development. In this paper, we study the regulation of integrase genes that encode the enzyme required for integrative as well as excisive recombination. We noticed that for prophages inserted in or near tRNA genes the orientation of the integrase gene relative to the tRNA is crucial for its regulation.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1001149
PMCID: PMC2951348  PMID: 20949106
8.  Lysis-deficient phages as novel therapeutic agents for controlling bacterial infection 
BMC Microbiology  2011;11:195.
Background
Interest in phage therapy has grown over the past decade due to the rapid emergence of antibiotic resistance in bacterial pathogens. However, the use of bacteriophages for therapeutic purposes has raised concerns over the potential for immune response, rapid toxin release by the lytic action of phages, and difficulty in dose determination in clinical situations. A phage that kills the target cell but is incapable of host cell lysis would alleviate these concerns without compromising efficacy.
Results
We developed a recombinant lysis-deficient Staphylococcus aureus phage P954, in which the endolysin gene was rendered nonfunctional by insertional inactivation. P954, a temperate phage, was lysogenized in S. aureus strain RN4220. The native endolysin gene on the prophage was replaced with an endolysin gene disrupted by the chloramphenicol acetyl transferase (cat) gene through homologous recombination using a plasmid construct. Lysogens carrying the recombinant phage were detected by growth in presence of chloramphenicol. Induction of the recombinant prophage did not result in host cell lysis, and the phage progeny were released by cell lysis with glass beads. The recombinant phage retained the endolysin-deficient genotype and formed plaques only when endolysin was supplemented. The host range of the recombinant phage was the same as that of the parent phage. To test the in vivo efficacy of the recombinant endolysin-deficient phage, immunocompromised mice were challenged with pathogenic S. aureus at a dose that results in 80% mortality (LD80). Treatment with the endolysin-deficient phage rescued mice from the fatal S. aureus infection.
Conclusions
A recombinant endolysin-deficient staphylococcal phage has been developed that is lethal to methicillin-resistant S. aureus without causing bacterial cell lysis. The phage was able to multiply in lytic mode utilizing a heterologous endolysin expressed from a plasmid in the propagation host. The recombinant phage effectively rescued mice from fatal S. aureus infection. To our knowledge this is the first report of a lysis-deficient staphylococcal phage.
doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-195
PMCID: PMC3224134  PMID: 21880144
9.  Phasmid vectors for identification of genes by complementation of Escherichia coli mutants. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1985;162(2):777-783.
A bacteriophage lambda cloning vector was designed to facilitate the isolation of genes from procaryotic organisms by complementation of Escherichia coli mutants. This vector, lambda SE4, was constructed by attaching a very-low-copy-number replication system (from the plasmid NR1) and a spectinomycin resistance gene to the left arm of lambda 1059 (Karn et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 77:5172-5176, 1980). This phasmid cloning vector is capable of growing lytically as a phage in a nonimmune host or lysogenically as a phasmid in an immune host. This phasmid utilizes the Spi- selection for insertions of DNA into the vector and has the ability to accept 2- to 19-kilobase Sau3A1, BamHI, BglII, BclI, or XhoII fragments; recombinants lysogenize immune hosts as single-copy-number selectable plasmids at 100% frequency. An E. coli library was constructed by using the initial vector lambda SE4, and clones of a number of representative genes were identified. A typical clone, lambda ant+, was shown to be readily mutagenized by a mini-Tn10 transposon. A general method for transferring cloned DNA segments onto bacteriophage lambda was developed. The method involves the use of in vivo recombination with a selection and was used to construct two derivatives of lambda SE4. Possible uses of these vectors and of the method for transferring cloned DNA onto phage lambda are discussed.
PMCID: PMC218919  PMID: 2985547
10.  Phages and the Evolution of Bacterial Pathogens: from Genomic Rearrangements to Lysogenic Conversion 
Comparative genomics demonstrated that the chromosomes from bacteria and their viruses (bacteriophages) are coevolving. This process is most evident for bacterial pathogens where the majority contain prophages or phage remnants integrated into the bacterial DNA. Many prophages from bacterial pathogens encode virulence factors. Two situations can be distinguished: Vibrio cholerae, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, Corynebacterium diphtheriae, and Clostridium botulinum depend on a specific prophage-encoded toxin for causing a specific disease, whereas Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium harbor a multitude of prophages and each phage-encoded virulence or fitness factor makes an incremental contribution to the fitness of the lysogen. These prophages behave like “swarms” of related prophages. Prophage diversification seems to be fueled by the frequent transfer of phage material by recombination with superinfecting phages, resident prophages, or occasional acquisition of other mobile DNA elements or bacterial chromosomal genes. Prophages also contribute to the diversification of the bacterial genome architecture. In many cases, they actually represent a large fraction of the strain-specific DNA sequences. In addition, they can serve as anchoring points for genome inversions. The current review presents the available genomics and biological data on prophages from bacterial pathogens in an evolutionary framework.
doi:10.1128/MMBR.68.3.560-602.2004
PMCID: PMC515249  PMID: 15353570
11.  Nasty Viruses, Costly Plasmids, Population Dynamics, and the Conditions for Establishing and Maintaining CRISPR-Mediated Adaptive Immunity in Bacteria 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(10):e1001171.
Clustered, Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) abound in the genomes of almost all archaebacteria and nearly half the eubacteria sequenced. Through a genetic interference mechanism, bacteria with CRISPR regions carrying copies of the DNA of previously encountered phage and plasmids abort the replication of phage and plasmids with these sequences. Thus it would seem that protection against infecting phage and plasmids is the selection pressure responsible for establishing and maintaining CRISPR in bacterial populations. But is it? To address this question and provide a framework and hypotheses for the experimental study of the ecology and evolution of CRISPR, I use mathematical models of the population dynamics of CRISPR-encoding bacteria with lytic phage and conjugative plasmids. The results of the numerical (computer simulation) analysis of the properties of these models with parameters in the ranges estimated for Escherichia coli and its phage and conjugative plasmids indicate: (1) In the presence of lytic phage there are broad conditions where bacteria with CRISPR-mediated immunity will have an advantage in competition with non-CRISPR bacteria with otherwise higher Malthusian fitness. (2) These conditions for the existence of CRISPR are narrower when there is envelope resistance to the phage. (3) While there are situations where CRISPR-mediated immunity can provide bacteria an advantage in competition with higher Malthusian fitness bacteria bearing deleterious conjugative plasmids, the conditions for this to obtain are relatively narrow and the intensity of selection favoring CRISPR weak. The parameters of these models can be independently estimated, the assumption behind their construction validated, and the hypotheses generated from the analysis of their properties tested in experimental populations of bacteria with lytic phage and conjugative plasmids. I suggest protocols for estimating these parameters and outline the design of experiments to evaluate the validity of these models and test these hypotheses.
Author Summary
CRISPR is the acronym for the adaptive immune system that has been found in almost all archaebacteria and nearly half the eubacteria examined. Unlike the other defenses bacteria have for protection from phage and other deleterious DNAs, CRISPR has the virtues of specificity, memory, and the capacity to abort infections with a virtually indefinite diversity of deleterious DNAs. In this report, mathematical models of the population dynamics of bacteria, phage, and plasmids are used to determine the conditions under which CRISPR can become established and will be maintained in bacterial populations and the contribution of this adaptive immune system to the ecology and (co)evolution of bacteria and bacteriophage. The models predict realistic and broad conditions under which bacteria bearing CRISPR regions can invade and be maintained in populations of higher fitness bacteria confronted with bacteriophage and narrower conditions when the confrontation is with competitors carrying conjugative plasmids. The models predict that CRISPR can facilitate long-term co-evolutionary arms races between phage and bacteria and between phage- rather than resource-limited bacterial communities. The parameters of these models can be independently estimated, the assumptions behind their construction validated, and the hypotheses generated from the analysis of their properties tested with experimental populations of bacteria.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1001171
PMCID: PMC2965746  PMID: 21060859
12.  A triggered-suicide system designed as a defense against bacteriophages. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1997;179(21):6741-6748.
A novel bacteriophage protection system for Lactococcus lactis based on a genetic trap, in which a strictly phage-inducible promoter isolated from the lytic phage phi31 is used to activate a bacterial suicide system after infection, was developed. The lethal gene of the suicide system consists of the three-gene restriction cassette LlaIR+, which is lethal across a wide range of gram-positive bacteria. The phage-inducible trigger promoter (phi31P) and the LlaIR+ restriction cassette were cloned in Escherichia coli on a high-copy-number replicon to generate pTRK414H. Restriction activity was not apparent in E. coli or L. lactis prior to phage infection. In phage challenges of L. lactis(pTRK414H) with phi31, the efficiency of plaquing was lowered to 10(-4) and accompanied by a fourfold reduction in burst size. Center-of-infection assays revealed that only 15% of infected cells released progeny phage. In addition to phage phi31, the phi31P/LlaIR+ suicide cassette also inhibited four phi31-derived recombinant phages at levels at least 10-fold greater than that of phi31. The phi31P/LlaIR+-based suicide system is a genetically engineered form of abortive infection that traps and eliminates phages potentially evolving in fermentation environments by destroying the phage genome and killing the propagation host. This type of phage-triggered suicide system could be designed for any bacterium-phage combination, given a universal lethal gene and an inducible promoter which is triggered by the infecting bacteriophage.
PMCID: PMC179604  PMID: 9352925
13.  Why Bacteriophage Encode Exotoxins and other Virulence Factors 
This study considers gene location within bacteria as a function of genetic element mobility. Our emphasis is on prophage encoding of bacterial virulence factors (VFs). At least four mechanisms potentially contribute to phage encoding of bacterial VFs: (i) Enhanced gene mobility could result in greater VF gene representation within bacterial populations. We question, though, why certain genes but not others might benefit from this mobility. (ii) Epistatic interactions—between VF genes and phage genes that enhance VF utility to bacteria—could maintain phage genes via selection acting on individual, VF-expressing bacteria. However, is this mechanism sufficient to maintain the rest of phage genomes or, without gene co-regulation, even genetic linkage between phage and VF genes? (iii) Phage could amplify VFs during disease progression by carrying them to otherwise commensal bacteria colocated within the same environment. However, lytic phage kill bacteria, thus requiring assumptions of inclusive fitness within bacterial populations to explain retention of phage-mediated VF amplification for the sake of bacterial utility. Finally, (iv) phage-encoded VFs could enhance phage Darwinian fitness, particularly by acting as ecosystem-modifying agents. That is, VF-supplied nutrients could enhance phage growth by increasing the density or by improving the physiology of phage-susceptible bacteria. Alternatively, VF-mediated break down of diffusion-inhibiting spatial structure found within the multicellular bodies of host organisms could augment phage dissemination to new bacteria or to environments. Such phage-fitness enhancing mechanisms could apply particularly given VF expression within microbiologically heterogeneous environments, ie, ones where phage have some reasonable potential to acquire phage-susceptible bacteria.
PMCID: PMC2658872  PMID: 19325857
Exotoxins; Virulence Factors; Phage; Bacteriophage
14.  Comparative and Evolutionary Analysis of the Bacterial Homologous Recombination Systems  
PLoS Genetics  2005;1(2):e15.
Homologous recombination is a housekeeping process involved in the maintenance of chromosome integrity and generation of genetic variability. Although detailed biochemical studies have described the mechanism of action of its components in model organisms, there is no recent extensive assessment of this knowledge, using comparative genomics and taking advantage of available experimental data on recombination. Using comparative genomics, we assessed the diversity of recombination processes among bacteria, and simulations suggest that we missed very few homologs. The work included the identification of orthologs and the analysis of their evolutionary history and genomic context. Some genes, for proteins such as RecA, the resolvases, and RecR, were found to be nearly ubiquitous, suggesting that the large majority of bacterial genomes are capable of homologous recombination. Yet many genomes show incomplete sets of presynaptic systems, with RecFOR being more frequent than RecBCD/AddAB. There is a significant pattern of co-occurrence between these systems and antirecombinant proteins such as the ones of mismatch repair and SbcB, but no significant association with nonhomologous end joining, which seems rare in bacteria. Surprisingly, a large number of genomes in which homologous recombination has been reported lack many of the enzymes involved in the presynaptic systems. The lack of obvious correlation between the presence of characterized presynaptic genes and experimental data on the frequency of recombination suggests the existence of still-unknown presynaptic mechanisms in bacteria. It also indicates that, at the moment, the assessment of the intrinsic stability or recombination isolation of bacteria in most cases cannot be inferred from the identification of known recombination proteins in the genomes.
Synopsis
Genomes evolve mostly by modifications involving large pieces of genetic material (DNA). Exchanges of chromosome pieces between different organisms as well as intragenomic movements of DNA regions are the result of a process named homologous recombination. The central actor of this process, the RecA protein, is amazingly conserved from bacteria to human. In addition to its role in the generation of genetic variability, homologous recombination is also the guardian of genome integrity, as it acts to repair DNA damage. RecA-catalyzed DNA exchange (synapse) is facilitated by the action of presynaptic enzymes and completed by postsynaptic enzymes (resolvases). In addition, some enzymes counteract RecA. Here, the researchers assess the diversity of recombination proteins among 117 different bacterial species. They find that resolvases are nearly as ubiquitous and as well conserved at the sequence level as RecA. This suggests that the large majority of bacterial genomes are capable of homologous recombination. Presynaptic systems are less ubiquitous, and there is no obvious correlation between their presence and experimental data on the frequency of recombination. However, there is a significant pattern of co-occurrence between these systems and antirecombinant proteins.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0010015
PMCID: PMC1193525  PMID: 16132081
15.  Genetic modifications to temperate Enterococcus faecalis phage ϕEf11 that abolish the establishment of lysogeny and sensitivity to repressor, and increase host range and productivity of lytic infection 
Microbiology  2013;159(Pt 6):1023-1035.
ϕEf11 is a temperate bacteriophage originally isolated by induction from a lysogenic Enterococcus faecalis strain recovered from an infected root canal, and the ϕEf11 prophage is widely disseminated among strains of E. faecalis. Because E. faecalis has emerged as a significant opportunistic human pathogen, we were interested in examining the genes and regulatory sequences predicted to be critical in the establishment/maintenance of lysogeny by ϕEf11 as a first step in the construction of the genome of a virulent, highly lytic phage that could be used in treating serious E. faecalis infections. Passage of ϕEf11 in E. faecalis JH2-2 yielded a variant that produced large, extensively spreading plaques in lawns of indicator cells, and elevated phage titres in broth cultures. Genetic analysis of the cloned virus producing the large plaques revealed that the variant was a recombinant between ϕEf11 and a defective ϕFL1C-like prophage located in the E. faecalis JH2-2 chromosome. The recombinant possessed five ORFs of the defective ϕFL1C-like prophage in place of six ORFs of the ϕEf11 genome. Deletion of the putative lysogeny gene module (ORFs 31–36) and replacement of the putative cro promoter from the recombinant phage genome with a nisin-inducible promoter resulted in no loss of virus infectivity. The genetic construct incorporating all the aforementioned ϕEf11 genomic modifications resulted in the generation of a variant that was incapable of lysogeny and insensitive to repressor, rendering it virulent and highly lytic, with a notably extended host range.
doi:10.1099/mic.0.067116-0
PMCID: PMC3709695  PMID: 23579685
16.  Bacteriophage Diversity in the North Sea 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  1998;64(11):4128-4133.
In recent years interest in bacteriophages in aquatic environments has increased. Electron microscopy studies have revealed high numbers of phage particles (104 to 107 particles per ml) in the marine environment. However, the ecological role of these bacteriophages is still unknown, and the role of the phages in the control of bacterioplankton by lysis and the potential for gene transfer are disputed. Even the basic questions of the genetic relationships of the phages and the diversity of phage-host systems in aquatic environments have not been answered. We investigated the diversity of 22 phage-host systems after 85 phages were collected at one station near a German island, Helgoland, located in the North Sea. The relationships among the phages were determined by electron microscopy, DNA-DNA hybridization, and host range studies. On the basis of morphology, 11 phages were assigned to the virus family Myoviridae, 7 phages were assigned to the family Siphoviridae, and 4 phages were assigned to the family Podoviridae. DNA-DNA hybridization confirmed that there was no DNA homology between phages belonging to different families. We found that the 22 marine bacteriophages belonged to 13 different species. The host bacteria were differentiated by morphological and physiological tests and by 16S ribosomal DNA sequencing. All of the bacteria were gram negative, facultatively anaerobic, motile, and coccoid. The 16S rRNA sequences of the bacteria exhibited high levels of similarity (98 to 99%) with the sequences of organisms belonging to the genus Pseudoalteromonas, which belongs to the γ subdivision of the class Proteobacteria.
PMCID: PMC106618  PMID: 9797256
17.  Noise in timing and precision of gene activities in a genetic cascade 
The timing of events along the induction cascade of bacteriophage lambda is independent of UV dose and displays increased relative temporal precision with cascade progression.This behavior is reproduced by a model of a cascade consisting of independent steps that shows that higher temporal precision can be attained by a cascade consisting of a large number of fast steps.The observed cell-cell variability in cascade timing is not due to differences in uniform dilation of intervals between events among cells, but rather to the independent distribution of interval durations within the cascade, consistently with the modular architecture of the lambda genome.The single-cell time lapse study reveals a bistable regime at low UV doses in which some cells are induced while others are not, evidence for a commitment point beyond which lysis will occur, and an unexpected shutoff of the lambda pR promoter.
Stochasticity or noise, an inherent property of all biological networks, is often manifested by different phenotypic behaviors in clonal populations of cells (Raser and O'Shea, 2005). Noise can arise, for instance, from sources such as cell–cell variations in small numbers of regulatory molecules or from the stochastic nature of molecular interactions (Paulsson, 2005). Besides affecting the number of molecules in a cell, noise may also lead to variability in timing of particular events along a given pathway. In this work, we studied temporal noise in the induction cascade of phage lambda.
Infection of a bacterial cell by bacteriophage lambda can lead to two different fates (Ptashne, 2004; Dodd et al, 2005; Oppenheim et al, 2005): the phage can either multiply inside the host leading to its eventual lysis and the generation of progeny virions (the lytic pathway) or, alternatively, it can integrate its genome into the host's genome (prophage state), replicating passively with the latter (the lysogenic pathway). The prophage state is highly stable, being maintained by a phage-encoded repressor, which shuts off phage genes leading to lytic growth. However, the lytic pathway can be induced in a lysogenic cell, through the activation of the bacterial SOS response to DNA damage (Little, 1996), for example by UV irradiation. Once activated, the SOS response results in cleavage of the lambda repressor, leading to expression of the phage early and late genes, and culminating in the lysis of the host cell.
The lambda induction cascade has been extensively characterized over the years. We built upon this knowledge to tap the cascade at different points and quantitatively analyze the progressive loss of temporal coherence between cells, as different stages along the cascade are executed, following synchronous induction. Using time-lapse microscopy, we monitored the time of activation of early and late genes in individual cells using lambda pR and pR′-tR′ promoter-GFP fusions, respectively, by means of reporter plasmids, and finally the time of lysis. Sample results are shown in Figure 2.
At low UV levels (5 J/m2), the network exhibits bistability: only approximately 40% of the bacteria lyse, whereas the others continue to divide, following a lag period. At high UV levels (20 J/m2), almost all bacteria lyse. We found that the timing of events in cells that lyse is independent of UV dose. This is in contrast to the known behavior of the SOS network (Friedman et al, 2005), indicating that these two networks proceed independently. Following induction, a surprising shutoff in the activity of the pR promoter is observed in all cells (see Figure 2). Furthermore, the data show that whereas early genes are expressed in all cells irrespective of cell fate, late genes are expressed only in the lysing cells, indicating that similar to infection, a specific commitment checkpoint is operating.
To characterize the temporal variability in a cell population, we used the coefficient of variation, defined as the non-dimensional ratio of the standard deviation and the mean time of occurrence of a particular event. We studied the changes in both standard deviation and coefficient of variation in timing of various events along the lambda induction cascade, from the expression of the early genes to the ultimate lysis of the cells. As shown in Figure 6, the absolute noise as measured by the standard deviation increases as the cascade progresses. In contrast, the coefficient of variation, which measures variability relative to the time of occurrence, decreases. Simple theoretical considerations described in the text yield a necessary and sufficient condition for a monotonic decrease in the coefficient of variation. Higher temporal precision can be achieved when the cascade is composed of a large number of fast steps.
Further support for the independence of network modules is furnished by a correlation analysis of the times of occurrence of different steps along the lytic cascade. This analysis also indicates that the variability in lysis time is not due to differences in the global rate of cascade progression, but probably to random fluctuations in the execution time of the various cascade stages. Indeed, phage lambda gene expression architecture is well known to have evolved from a number of independent regulatory modules (Hendrix, 2003).
Biological developmental pathways require proper timing of gene expression. We investigated timing variations of defined steps along the lytic cascade of bacteriophage λ. Gene expression was followed in individual lysogenic cells, after induction with a pulse of UV irradiation. At low UV doses, some cells undergo partial induction and eventually divide, whereas others follow the lytic pathway. The timing of events in cells committed to lysis is independent of the level of activation of the SOS response, suggesting that the lambda network proceeds autonomously after induction. An increased loss of temporal coherence of specific events from prophage induction to lysis is observed, even though the coefficient of variation of timing fluctuations decreases. The observed temporal variations are not due to cell factors uniformly dilating the timing of execution of the cascade. This behavior is reproduced by a simple model composed of independent stages, which for a given mean duration predicts higher temporal precision, when a cascade consists of a large number of steps. Evidence for the independence of regulatory modules in the network is presented.
doi:10.1038/msb4100113
PMCID: PMC1828745  PMID: 17299413
bacteriophage λ; noise; precision; prophage induction; timing
18.  Construction of a Prophage-Free Variant of Corynebacterium glutamicum ATCC 13032 for Use as a Platform Strain for Basic Research and Industrial Biotechnology 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2013;79(19):6006-6015.
The activity of bacteriophages and phage-related mobile elements is a major source for genome rearrangements and genetic instability of their bacterial hosts. The genome of the industrial amino acid producer Corynebacterium glutamicum ATCC 13032 contains three prophages (CGP1, CGP2, and CGP3) of so far unknown functionality. Several phage genes are regularly expressed, and the large prophage CGP3 (∼190 kbp) has recently been shown to be induced under certain stress conditions. Here, we present the construction of MB001, a prophage-free variant of C. glutamicum ATCC 13032 with a 6% reduced genome. This strain does not show any unfavorable properties during extensive phenotypic characterization under various standard and stress conditions. As expected, we observed improved growth and fitness of MB001 under SOS-response-inducing conditions that trigger CGP3 induction in the wild-type strain. Further studies revealed that MB001 has a significantly increased transformation efficiency and produced about 30% more of the heterologous model protein enhanced yellow fluorescent protein (eYFP), presumably as a consequence of an increased plasmid copy number. These effects were attributed to the loss of the restriction-modification system (cg1996-cg1998) located within CGP3. The deletion of the prophages without any negative effect results in a novel platform strain for metabolic engineering and represents a useful step toward the construction of a C. glutamicum chassis genome of strain ATCC 13032 for biotechnological applications and synthetic biology.
doi:10.1128/AEM.01634-13
PMCID: PMC3811366  PMID: 23892752
19.  BRED: A Simple and Powerful Tool for Constructing Mutant and Recombinant Bacteriophage Genomes 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(12):e3957.
Advances in DNA sequencing technology have facilitated the determination of hundreds of complete genome sequences both for bacteria and their bacteriophages. Some of these bacteria have well-developed and facile genetic systems for constructing mutants to determine gene function, and recombineering is a particularly effective tool. However, generally applicable methods for constructing defined mutants of bacteriophages are poorly developed, in part because of the inability to use selectable markers such as drug resistance genes during viral lytic growth. Here we describe a method for simple and effective directed mutagenesis of bacteriophage genomes using Bacteriophage Recombineering of Electroporated DNA (BRED), in which a highly efficient recombineering system is utilized directly on electroporated phage DNA; no selection is required and mutants can be readily detected by PCR. We describe the use of BRED to construct unmarked gene deletions, in-frame internal deletions, base substitutions, precise gene replacements, and the addition of gene tags.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003957
PMCID: PMC2597740  PMID: 19088849
20.  The genome and proteome of a Campylobacter coli bacteriophage vB_CcoM-IBB_35 reveal unusual features 
Virology Journal  2012;9:35.
Background
Campylobacter is the leading cause of foodborne diseases worldwide. Bacteriophages (phages) are naturally occurring predators of bacteria, ubiquitous in the environment, with high host specificity and thus considered an appealing option to control bacterial pathogens. Nevertheless for an effective use of phages as antimicrobial agents, it is important to understand phage biology which renders crucial the analysis of phage genomes and proteomes. The lack of sequence data from Campylobacter phages adds further importance to these studies.
Methods
vB_CcoM-IBB_35 is a broad lytic spectrum Myoviridae Campylobacter phage with high potential for therapeutic use. The genome of this phage was obtained by pyrosequencing and the sequence data was further analyzed. The proteomic analysis was performed by SDS-PAGE and Mass spectrometry.
Results and conclusions
The DNA sequence data of vB_CcoM-IBB_35 consists of five contigs for a total of 172,065 bp with an average GC content of 27%. Attempts to close the gaps between contigs were unsuccessful since the DNA preparations appear to contain substances that inhibited Taq and ϕ29 polymerases. From the 210 identified ORFs, around 60% represent proteins that were not functionally assigned. Homology exists with members of the Teequatrovirinae namely for T4 proteins involved in morphogenesis, nucleotide metabolism, transcription, DNA replication and recombination. Tandem mass spectrometric analysis revealed 38 structural proteins as part of the mature phage particle.
Conclusions
Genes encoding proteins involved in the carbohydrate metabolism along with several incidences of gene duplications, split genes with inteins and introns have been rarely found in other phage genomes yet are found in this phage. We identified the genes encoding for tail fibres and for the lytic cassette, this later, expressing enzymes for bacterial capsular polysaccharides (CPS) degradation, which has not been reported before for Campylobacter phages.
doi:10.1186/1743-422X-9-35
PMCID: PMC3322345  PMID: 22284308
Bacteriophage; Genome; Campylobacter
21.  Evolutionary Genomics of a Temperate Bacteriophage in an Obligate Intracellular Bacteria (Wolbachia) 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24984.
Genome evolution of bacteria is usually influenced by ecology, such that bacteria with a free-living stage have large genomes and high rates of horizontal gene transfer, while obligate intracellular bacteria have small genomes with typically low amounts of gene exchange. However, recent studies indicate that obligate intracellular species that host-switch frequently harbor agents of horizontal transfer such as mobile elements. For example, the temperate double-stranded DNA bacteriophage WO in Wolbachia persistently transfers between bacterial coinfections in the same host. Here we show that despite the phage's rampant mobility between coinfections, the prophage's genome displays features of constraint related to its intracellular niche. First, there is always at least one intact prophage WO and usually several degenerate, independently-acquired WO prophages in each Wolbachia genome. Second, while the prophage genomes are modular in composition with genes of similar function grouping together, the modules are generally not interchangeable with other unrelated phages and thus do not evolve by the Modular Theory. Third, there is an unusual core genome that strictly consists of head and baseplate genes; other gene modules are frequently deleted. Fourth, the prophage recombinases are diverse and there is no conserved integration sequence. Finally, the molecular evolutionary forces acting on prophage WO are point mutation, intragenic recombination, deletion, and purifying selection. Taken together, these analyses indicate that while lateral transfer of phage WO is pervasive between Wolbachia with occasional new gene uptake, constraints of the intracellular niche obstruct extensive mixture between WO and the global phage population. Although the Modular Theory has long been considered the paradigm of temperate bacteriophage evolution in free-living bacteria, it appears irrelevant in phages of obligate intracellular bacteria.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024984
PMCID: PMC3173496  PMID: 21949820
22.  CRISPR-Cas: an efficient tool for genome engineering of virulent bacteriophages 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(14):9504-9513.
Bacteriophages are now widely recognized as major players in a wide variety of ecosystems. Novel genes are often identified in newly isolated phages as well as in environmental metavirome studies. Most of these novel viral genes have unknown functions but appear to be coding for small, non-structural proteins. To understand their biological role, very efficient genetic tools are required to modify them, especially in the genome of virulent phages. We first show that specific point mutations and large deletions can be engineered in the genome of the virulent phage 2972 using the Streptococcus thermophilus CRISPR-Cas Type II-A system as a selective pressure to increase recombination efficiencies. Of significance, all the plaques tested contained recombinant phages with the desired mutation. Furthermore, we show that the CRISPR-Cas engineering system can be used to efficiently introduce a functional methyltransferase gene into a virulent phage genome. Finally, synthetic CRISPR bacteriophage insensitive mutants were constructed by cloning a spacer-repeat unit in a low-copy vector illustrating the possibility to target multiple regions of the phage genome. Taken together, this data shows that the CRISPR-Cas system is an efficient and adaptable tool for editing the otherwise intractable genomes of virulent phages and to better understand phage-host interactions.
doi:10.1093/nar/gku628
PMCID: PMC4132740  PMID: 25063295
23.  Bacteriophage Crosstalk: Coordination of Prophage Induction by Trans-Acting Antirepressors 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(6):e1002149.
Many species of bacteria harbor multiple prophages in their genomes. Prophages often carry genes that confer a selective advantage to the bacterium, typically during host colonization. Prophages can convert to infectious viruses through a process known as induction, which is relevant to the spread of bacterial virulence genes. The paradigm of prophage induction, as set by the phage Lambda model, sees the process initiated by the RecA-stimulated self-proteolysis of the phage repressor. Here we show that a large family of lambdoid prophages found in Salmonella genomes employs an alternative induction strategy. The repressors of these phages are not cleaved upon induction; rather, they are inactivated by the binding of small antirepressor proteins. Formation of the complex causes the repressor to dissociate from DNA. The antirepressor genes lie outside the immunity region and are under direct control of the LexA repressor, thus plugging prophage induction directly into the SOS response. GfoA and GfhA, the antirepressors of Salmonella prophages Gifsy-1 and Gifsy-3, each target both of these phages' repressors, GfoR and GfhR, even though the latter proteins recognize different operator sites and the two phages are heteroimmune. In contrast, the Gifsy-2 phage repressor, GtgR, is insensitive to GfoA and GfhA, but is inactivated by an antirepressor from the unrelated Fels-1 prophage (FsoA). This response is all the more surprising as FsoA is under the control of the Fels-1 repressor, not LexA, and plays no apparent role in Fels-1 induction, which occurs via a Lambda CI-like repressor cleavage mechanism. The ability of antirepressors to recognize non-cognate repressors allows coordination of induction of multiple prophages in polylysogenic strains. Identification of non-cleavable gfoR/gtgR homologues in a large variety of bacterial genomes (including most Escherichia coli genomes in the DNA database) suggests that antirepression-mediated induction is far more common than previously recognized.
Author Summary
Many viruses that infect bacteria (bacteriophages) can direct the integration of their DNA into the bacterial chromosome. This condition, known as lysogeny, is relevant to bacterial evolution, as it is one of the main pathways leading to the incorporation of foreign DNA in nature. Indeed, bacteriophages often carry genes that escape lysogenic repression and benefit the bacterium. This symbiotic association can come to an end if bacteria suffer DNA damage. A mechanism mediated by the host's RecA protein causes the relief of repression, viral DNA excision, and replication. This process, known as prophage induction, kills the host and results in the release of viral particles. In this work, we have analyzed the mechanism responsible for induction in a large family of prophages naturally present in the genomes of Salmonella bacteria. We found that, unlike in best-studied model phages, the repressors of these Salmonella phages do not undergo RecA-mediated proteolysis; rather, they are inactivated by the binding of small antirepressor proteins. We show that some antirepressors can act on both cognate and non-cognate repressors, allowing separate prophages within a given strain to be induced simultaneously. We discuss evidence suggesting that antirepressor-mediated prophage induction is quite common in the bacterial world.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002149
PMCID: PMC3121763  PMID: 21731505
24.  Prophage Induction Is Enhanced and Required for Renal Disease and Lethality in an EHEC Mouse Model 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(3):e1003236.
Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC), particularly serotype O157:H7, causes hemorrhagic colitis, hemolytic uremic syndrome, and even death. In vitro studies showed that Shiga toxin 2 (Stx2), the primary virulence factor expressed by EDL933 (an O157:H7 strain), is encoded by the 933W prophage. And the bacterial subpopulation in which the 933W prophage is induced is the producer of Stx2. Using the germ-free mouse, we show the essential role 933W induction plays in the virulence of EDL933 infection. An EDL933 derivative with a single mutation in its 933W prophage, resulting specifically in that phage being uninducible, colonizes the intestines, but fails to cause any of the pathological changes seen with the parent strain. Hence, induction of the 933W prophage is the primary event leading to disease from EDL933 infection. We constructed a derivative of EDL933, SIVET, with a biosensor that specifically measures induction of the 933W prophage. Using this biosensor to measure 933W induction in germ-free mice, we found an increase three logs greater than was expected from in vitro results. Since the induced population produces and releases Stx2, this result indicates that an activity in the intestine increases Stx2 production.
Author Summary
Infection with Enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), and more recently with the Enteroaggregative E. coli strain O104:H4, is a significant health risk, causing bloody diarrhea, kidney failure, and even death. The virulence factor in these bacteria responsible for the severe outcomes is Shiga toxin (Stx). Genes encoding Stx are in the genome of bacterial viruses (prophages) on the pathogenic E. coli chromosomes. The prophage remains quiescent until damage to the bacterial chromosome occurs causing prophage gene expression (called induction), which leads to production of bacteriophages that are released into the environment. Because stx expression is controlled by the phage regulatory system, prophage induction leads additionally to production and release of Stx. This study provides conclusive evidence that in a mouse model of EHEC infection, induction of the prophage carrying the stx genes is specifically required for EHEC to cause disease and that the intestinal environment adds to the induction and therefore to the production of Stx. Similar events likely regulate Stx production and release by the Stx encoding phage in the O104:H4 strain. Controlling prophage induction offers a means to control EHEC infection.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1003236
PMCID: PMC3610611  PMID: 23555250
25.  Lysogeny with Shiga Toxin 2-Encoding Bacteriophages Represses Type III Secretion in Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(5):e1002672.
Lytic or lysogenic infections by bacteriophages drive the evolution of enteric bacteria. Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) have recently emerged as a significant zoonotic infection of humans with the main serotypes carried by ruminants. Typical EHEC strains are defined by the expression of a type III secretion (T3S) system, the production of Shiga toxins (Stx) and association with specific clinical symptoms. The genes for Stx are present on lambdoid bacteriophages integrated into the E. coli genome. Phage type (PT) 21/28 is the most prevalent strain type linked with human EHEC infections in the United Kingdom and is more likely to be associated with cattle shedding high levels of the organism than PT32 strains. In this study we have demonstrated that the majority (90%) of PT 21/28 strains contain both Stx2 and Stx2c phages, irrespective of source. This is in contrast to PT 32 strains for which only a minority of strains contain both Stx2 and 2c phages (28%). PT21/28 strains had a lower median level of T3S compared to PT32 strains and so the relationship between Stx phage lysogeny and T3S was investigated. Deletion of Stx2 phages from EHEC strains increased the level of T3S whereas lysogeny decreased T3S. This regulation was confirmed in an E. coli K12 background transduced with a marked Stx2 phage followed by measurement of a T3S reporter controlled by induced levels of the LEE-encoded regulator (Ler). The presence of an integrated Stx2 phage was shown to repress Ler induction of LEE1 and this regulation involved the CII phage regulator. This repression could be relieved by ectopic expression of a cognate CI regulator. A model is proposed in which Stx2-encoding bacteriophages regulate T3S to co-ordinate epithelial cell colonisation that is promoted by Stx and secreted effector proteins.
Author Summary
Many significant infectious diseases that impact human health evolve in animal hosts. Our work focuses on infections caused by strains of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) that cause bloody diarrhoea and life threatening kidney and brain damage in humans as an incidental host, while ruminants are a reservoir host. EHEC strains are infected with bacteriophages that can integrate their genetic material into the bacterial chromosome. This includes genes for the production of Shiga toxins (Stx) that are responsible for the severe pathology in humans. It has been demonstrated that certain EHEC strains are more likely to be associated with human disease and ‘supershedding’ animals. The current study has shown that these EHEC strains are more likely to contain two related Stx bacteriophages, rather than one, and that the intercalating bacteriophages take control of the bacterial type III secretion system that is essential for ruminant colonization. We propose that this regulation favours co-acquisition of other genetic regions that encode type III-secreted proteins and regulators that can overcome this control. This finding helps our understanding of EHEC strain evolution and indicates that selection of more toxic strains may be occurring in the ruminant host with important implications for human health.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1002672
PMCID: PMC3355084  PMID: 22615557

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