The increasing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant staphylococci has prompted the need for antibacterial controls other than antibiotics. In this study, a lytic bacteriophage (phage K) was assessed in vitro for its ability to inhibit emerging drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains from hospitals and other species of Staphylococcus isolated from bovine infections. In in vitro inhibitory assays, phage K lysed a range of clinically isolated methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) strains, S. aureus with heterogeneous vancomycin resistance and vancomycin resistance, and teicoplanin-resistant strains. In these assays, 14 of the MRSA strains were initially only weakly sensitive to this phage. However, propagation of phage K on these less-sensitive strains resulted in all 14 being sensitive to the modified phages. The results enforce the principle that, while certain target bacteria may be relatively insensitive to lytic phage, this can be overcome by obtaining modified phage variants from passage of the phage through the insensitive strains. Model in situ hand wash studies using a phage-enriched wash solution resulted in a 100-fold reduction in staphylococcal numbers on human skin by comparison with numbers remaining after washing in phage-free solution. Infusion of the phage into a nonimmunogenic bismuth-based cream resulted in strong anti-Staphylococcus activity from the cream on plates and in broth.
Hydrophobic Actinobacteria are commonly associated with the stabilization of foams in activated sludge systems. One possible attractive approach to control these foam-stabilizing organisms is the use of specific bacteriophages. We describe the genome characterization of a novel polyvalent DNA phage, GTE2, isolated from activated sludge. This phage is lytic for Gordonia terrae, Rhodococcus globerulus, Rhodococcus erythropolis, Rhodococcus erythropolis, Nocardia otitidiscaviarum, and Nocardia brasiliensis. Phage GTE2 belongs to the family Siphoviridae, possessing a characteristic icosahedral head encapsulating a double-stranded DNA linear genome (45,530 bp) having 10-bp 3′-protruding cohesive ends. The genome sequence is 98% unique at the DNA level and contains 57 putative genes. The genome can be divided into two components, where the first is modular and encodes phage structural proteins and lysis genes. The second is not modular, and the genes harbored there are involved in DNA replication, repair, and metabolism. Some have no known function. GTE2 shows promising results in controlling stable foam production by its host bacteria under laboratory conditions, suggesting that it may prove useful in the field as a biocontrol agent.
The immunity (imm) gene of the Escherichia coli bacteriophage T4 effects exclusion of phage superinfecting cells already infected with T4. A candidate for this gene was placed under the control of the lac regulatory elements in a pUC plasmid. DNA sequencing revealed the presence of an open reading frame encoding a very lipophilic 83-residue (or 73-residue, depending on the unknown site of translation initiation) polypeptide which most likely represents a plasma membrane protein. This gene could be identified as the imm gene because expression from the plasmid caused exclusion of T4 and because interruption of the gene in the phage genome resulted in a phage no longer effecting superinfection immunity. It was found that the fraction of phage which was excluded upon infection of cells possessing the plasmid-encoded Imm protein ejected only about one-half of their DNA. Therefore, the Imm protein inhibited, directly or indirectly, DNA ejection.
Selective inhibition of specific genes can be accomplished using genetic suppressor elements (GSEs) that encode antisense RNA, dominant negative mutant proteins, or other regulatory products. GSEs may correspond to partial sequences of target genes, usually identified by trial and error. We have used bacteriophage lambda as a model system to test a concept that biologically active GSEs may be generated by random DNA fragmentation and identified by expression selection. Fragments from eleven different regions of lambda genome, encoding specific peptides or antisense RNA sequences, rendered E. coli resistant to the phage. Analysis of these GSEs revealed some previously unknown functions of phage lambda, including suppression of the cellular lambda receptor by an 'accessory' gene of the phage. The random fragment selection strategy provides a general approach to the generation of efficient GSEs and elucidation of novel gene functions.
Prophages are phages in lysogeny that are integrated into, and replicated as part of, the host bacterial genome. These mobile elements can have tremendous impact on their bacterial hosts’ genomes and phenotypes, which may lead to strain emergence and diversification, increased virulence or antibiotic resistance. However, finding prophages in microbial genomes remains a problem with no definitive solution. The majority of existing tools rely on detecting genomic regions enriched in protein-coding genes with known phage homologs, which hinders the de novo discovery of phage regions. In this study, a weighted phage detection algorithm, PhiSpy was developed based on seven distinctive characteristics of prophages, i.e. protein length, transcription strand directionality, customized AT and GC skew, the abundance of unique phage words, phage insertion points and the similarity of phage proteins. The first five characteristics are capable of identifying prophages without any sequence similarity with known phage genes. PhiSpy locates prophages by ranking genomic regions enriched in distinctive phage traits, which leads to the successful prediction of 94% of prophages in 50 complete bacterial genomes with a 6% false-negative rate and a 0.66% false-positive rate.
The ability of phages to specifically interact with and lyse their host bacteria makes them ideal antibacterial agents. The range of applications of bacteriophage can be extended by their immobilization on inert surfaces. A novel method for the oriented immobilization of bacteriophage has been developed. The method was based on charge differences between the bacteriophage head, which exhibits an overall net negative charge, and the tail fibers, which possess an overall net positive charge. Hence, the head would be more likely to attach to positively charged surfaces, leaving the tails free to capture and lyse bacteria. Cellulose membranes modified so that they had a positive surface charge were used as the support for phage immobilization. It was established that the number of infective phages immobilized on the positively charged cellulose membranes was significantly higher than that on unmodified membranes. Cocktails of phages active against Listeria or Escherichia coli immobilized on these membranes were shown to effectively control the growth of L. monocytogenes and E. coli O157:H7 in ready-to-eat and raw meat, respectively, under different storage temperatures and packaging conditions. The phage storage stability was investigated to further extend their industrial applications. It was shown that lyophilization can be used as a phage-drying method to maintain their infectivity on the newly developed bioactive materials. In conclusion, utilizing the charge difference between phage heads and tails provided a simple technique for oriented immobilization applicable to a wide range of phages and allowed the retention of infectivity.
Bacteriophage (phage) are among the most diverse and abundant life forms on Earth. Studies have recently used phage diversity to identify novel antimicrobial peptides and proteins. We showed that one such phage protein, Staphylococcus aureus (Sau) phage G1 gp67, inhibits cell growth in Sau by an unusual mechanism. Gp67 binds to the host RNA polymerase (RNAP) through an interaction with the promoter specificity σ subunit, but unlike many other σ-binding phage proteins, gp67 does not disrupt transcription at most promoters. Rather, gp67 prevents binding of another RNAP domain, the α-C-terminal domain, to upstream A/T-rich elements required for robust transcription at rRNA promoters. Here, we discuss additional biochemical insights on gp67, how phage promoters escape the inhibitory function of gp67, and methodological advancements that were foundational to our work.
Staphylococcus aureus; RNA polymerase; bacteriophage; gp67; transcription
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.
A Streptococcus equi gene bank was constructed in the bacteriophage lambda gt11 cloning vector, and hybrid phage plaques were screened with S. equi M protein antiserum. A hybrid phage expressing the S. equi M protein (lambda gt11/SEM7) was identified and lysogenized into Escherichia coli Y1089. The cloned M protein appeared in immunoblots as three polypeptides with relative molecular weights of 58,000, 53,000, and 50,000. When reacted with S. equi M protein antiserum in an agar double-diffusion assay, the cloned M protein formed a line of identity with a protein in an acid extract of S. equi. Furthermore, lambda gt11/SEM7 protein inhibited opsonization of S. equi by antiserum to S. equi M protein. In addition, the recombinant protein expressed determinants of the antigen in the immune complexes of purpura hemorrhagica. Native M protein obtained from S. equi and recombinant M protein showed very similar molecular weight distributions on immunoblots, appearing as multiple closely spaced bands with molecular weights ranging from 52,000 to 60,000. Antisera prepared separately against each of the acid-extracted polypeptides shown to be important in serum bactericidal responses (molecular weight, 29,000) and nasopharyngeal local antibody responses (molecular weights, 41,000 and 46,000) of the horse each reacted with all three polypeptides in an acid extract. Moreover, antisera against protoplasts and against recombinant M protein of S. equi also reacted with these polypeptides. These results suggest that the entire M protein molecule of S. equi is present in these preparations and that the fragments in acid extracts carry overlapping segments.
The plasmid-free Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris MG1614 is highly phage sensitive and lacks lactose fermenting ability (Lac) and primary casein degrading ability (Prt). Food grade gene transfer systems were used to sequentially superimpose different phage defense systems on this background, resulting in a gradual increase in resistance to bacteriophage in the derivatives. pLP712, encoding Lac and Prt, was then transferred to one of these hosts, into which plasmids encoding adsorption inhibition, restriction modification, and abortive infection had already been introduced. This resulted in a phage-resistant strain which was successfully used as a single-strain starter for cheddar cheese manufacture under industrial conditions.
Burkholderia pseudomallei is a saprophytic soil bacterium and the etiological agent that causes melioidosis. It is naturally resistant to many antibiotics and therefore is difficult to treat. Bacteriophages may provide an alternative source of treatment. We have isolated and characterised the bacteriophage ΦBp-AMP1. The phage is a member of the Podoviridae family and has a genome size of ~ 45 Kb. Molecular data based on the gene which encodes for the phage tail tubular protein suggests that the phage is distinct from known phages but related to phages which infect B. thailandensis and Ralstonia spp. The phage ΦBp-AMP1 is the first B. pseudomallei podovirus to be isolated from the environment rather than being induced from a bacterial culture. It has a broad host range within B. pseudomallei and can infect all 11 strains that we tested it on but not related Burkholderia species. It is heat stable for 8 h at 50°C but not stable at 60°C. It may potentially be a useful tool to treat or diagnose B. pseudomallei infections as it can lyse several strains of clinical relevance.
Burkholderia pseudomallei; bacteriophage; Podoviridae
Holins are a diverse group of small integral membrane proteins elaborated by bacteriophages to lyse bacterial hosts and effect release of progeny phages in a precisely timed manner. Recently, the holin S gene of phage λ was overexpressed and the holin protein was purified to homogeneity by means of an oligohistidine tag procedure and immobilized metal affinity chromatography (D. L. Smith, D. K. Struck, J. M. Scholtz, and R. Young, J. Bacteriol. 180:2531–2540, 1998). Numerous locations within the S gene were tested as sites for an oligohistidine-tag-encoding insertion which preserves holin function. The lysis phenotypes of these alleles, expressed from moderate-copy-number transactivation plasmids, were characterized. A striking class of mutants, previously referred to as early-dominant, have been found to have severe lysis defects but are fully functional in the presence of wild-type protein. Results presented here reveal that the early-dominance phenotype is independent of S107 inhibitor function. The results provide insight into the mechanism of hole formation and indicate that, while oligomerization is required in the pathway to hole formation, a nucleation event may also be required.
Bacteria and bacteriophages have evolved DNA modification as a strategy to protect their genomes. Mom protein of bacteriophage Mu modifies the phage DNA, rendering it refractile to numerous restriction enzymes and in turn enabling the phage to successfully invade a variety of hosts. A strong fortification, a combined activity of the phage and host factors, prevents untimely expression of mom and associated toxic effects. Here, we identify the bacterial chromatin architectural protein Fis as an additional player in this crowded regulatory cascade. Both in vivo and in vitro studies described here indicate that Fis acts as a transcriptional repressor of mom promoter. Further, our data shows that Fis mediates its repressive effect by denying access to RNA polymerase at mom promoter. We propose that a combined repressive effect of Fis and previously characterized negative regulatory factors could be responsible to keep the gene silenced most of the time. We thus present a new facet of Fis function in Mu biology. In addition to bringing about overall downregulation of Mu genome, it also ensures silencing of the advantageous but potentially lethal mom gene.
Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) strains are food-borne pathogens whose ability to produce Shiga toxin (Stx) is due to integration of Stx-encoding lambdoid bacteriophages. These Stx phages are both genetically and morphologically heterogeneous, and here we report the design and validation of a PCR-based multilocus typing scheme. PCR primer sets were designed for database variants of a range of key lambdoid bacteriophage genes and applied to control phages and 70 stx+ phage preparations induced from a collection of STEC isolates. The genetic diversity residing within these populations could be described, and observations were made on the heterogeneity of individual gene targets, including the unexpected predominance of short-tailed phages with a highly conserved tail spike protein gene. Purified Stx phages can be profiled using this scheme, and the lambdoid phage-borne genes in induced STEC preparations can be identified as well as those residing in the noninducible prophage complement. The ultimate goal is to enable robust and realistically applicable epidemiological studies of Stx phages and their traits. The impact of Stx phage on STEC epidemiology is currently unknown.
The host ranges of bacteriophages for group A, types 1, 6, 12, and 25 and group C streptococci have been determined. The findings indicate that the susceptibility to these phages is primarily a group-specific phenomenon, although it is modified by several factors such as the hyaluronic acid capsule, lysogeny, and possibly the presence of surface proteins. Phage antibody studies indicate that while the group A phages are antigenically related, they are distinct from the group C phage. This is in agreement with the observation that group A phages are not specific for their homologous streptococcal types. The purified group C carbohydrate inactivates group C phage but not the group A phages, thus suggesting that the carbohydrate, a component of the cell wall, may serve as the phage receptor site. It has not been possible to inactivate the group A phages with group A carbohydrate. Phage lysis of groups A and C streptococci is accompanied by fragmentation of the cell wall since the C carbohydrate has been identified serologically and chemically in the supernate of centrifuged lysates. The immediate lysis of groups A and C hemolytic streptococci and their isolated cell walls by an accesory heat-labile lytic factor in fresh group C lysates is also described.
The asiA gene of bacteriophage T4 encodes a 10-kDa peptide which binds strongly in vitro to the sigma 70 subunit of Escherichia coli RNA polymerase, thereby weakening sigma 70-core interactions and inhibiting sigma 70-dependent transcription. To assess the physiological role of this protein, we have introduced an amber mutation into the proximal portion of the asiA gene. On suppressor-deficient hosts, this mutant phage (amS22) produces minute plaques and exhibits a pronounced delay in phage production. During these mutant infections, T4 DNA synthesis is strongly delayed, suggesting that the AsiA protein plays an important role during the prereplicative period of phage T4 development. The kinetics of protein synthesis show clearly that while T4 early proteins are synthesized normally, those expressed primarily via the middle mode exhibit a marked inhibition. In fact, the pattern of protein synthesis after amS22 infection resembles greatly that seen after infection by amG1, an amber mutant in motA, a T4 gene whose product is known to control middle mode RNA synthesis. The amber mutations in the motA and asiA genes complement, both for phage growth and for normal kinetics of middle mode protein synthesis. Furthermore, primer extension analyses show that three different MotA-dependent T4 middle promoters are not recognized after infection by the asiA mutant phage. Thus, in conjunction with the MotA protein, the AsiA protein is required for transcription activation at T4 middle mode promoters.
We cloned the gene (c1) which encodes the repressor of vegetative function of Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteriophage D3. The cloned gene was shown to inhibit plating of D3 and the induction of D3 lysogens by UV irradiation. The efficiency of plating and prophage induction of the heteroimmune P. aeruginosa phage F116L were not affected by the presence of the cloned c1 gene of D3. When the D3 DNA fragment containing c1 was subcloned into pBR322 and introduced into Escherichia coli, it was shown to specifically inhibit the plating of phage lambda and the induction of the lambda prophage by mitomycin C. The plating of lambda imm434 phage was not affected. Analysis in minicells indicated that these effects correspond to the presence of a plasmid-encoded protein of 36,000 molecular weight. These data suggest the possibility that coliphage lambda and the P. aeruginosa phage D3 evolved from a common ancestor. The conservation of the functional similarities of their repressors may have occurred because of the advantage to these temperate phages of capitalizing on the potential of the evolutionarily conserved RecA protein to monitor the level of damage to the host genome.
Conjugation is the main mode of horizontal gene transfer that spreads antibiotic resistance among bacteria. Strategies for inhibiting conjugation may be useful for preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics and preventing the emergence of bacterial strains with multiple resistances. Filamentous bacteriophages were first observed to inhibit conjugation several decades ago. Here we investigate the mechanism of inhibition and find that the primary effect on conjugation is occlusion of the conjugative pilus by phage particles. This interaction is mediated primarily by phage coat protein g3p, and exogenous addition of the soluble fragment of g3p inhibited conjugation at low nanomolar concentrations. Our data are quantitatively consistent with a simple model in which association between the pili and phage particles or g3p prevents transmission of an F plasmid encoding tetracycline resistance. We also observe a decrease in the donor ability of infected cells, which is quantitatively consistent with a reduction in pili elaboration. Since many antibiotic-resistance factors confer susceptibility to phage infection through expression of conjugative pili (the receptor for filamentous phage), these results suggest that phage may be a source of soluble proteins that slow the spread of antibiotic resistance genes.
Bacteriophages encode auxiliary metabolic genes that support more efficient phage replication. For example, cyanophages carry several genes to maintain host photosynthesis throughout infection, shuttling the energy and reducing power generated away from carbon fixation and into anabolic pathways. Photodamage to the D1/D2 proteins at the core of photosystem II necessitates their continual replacement. Synthesis of functional proteins in bacteria requires co-translational removal of the N-terminal formyl group by a peptide deformylase (PDF). Analysis of marine metagenomes to identify phage-encoded homologs of known metabolic genes found that marine phages carry PDF genes, suggesting that their expression during infection might benefit phage replication. We identified a PDF homolog in the genome of Synechococcus cyanophage S-SSM7. Sequence analysis confirmed that it possesses the three absolutely conserved motifs that form the active site in PDF metalloproteases. Phylogenetic analysis placed it within the Type 1B subclass, most closely related to the Arabidopsis chloroplast PDF, but lacking the C-terminal α-helix characteristic of that group. PDF proteins from this phage and from Synechococcus elongatus were expressed and characterized. The phage PDF is the more active enzyme and deformylates the N-terminal tetrapeptides from D1 proteins more efficiently than those from ribosomal proteins. Solution of the X-ray/crystal structures of those two PDFs to 1.95 Å resolution revealed active sites identical to that of the Type 1B Arabidopsis chloroplast PDF. Taken together, these findings show that many cyanophages encode a PDF with a D1 substrate preference that adds to the repertoire of genes used by phages to maintain photosynthetic activities.
peptide deformylase; virus–host interactions; cyanophage; enzyme structure; photosynthesis; phage–host interactions
The emergence and increasing prevalence of multidrug-resistant bacterial pathogens emphasizes the need for new and innovative antimicrobial strategies. Lytic phages, which kill their host following amplification and release of progeny phage into the environment, may offer an alternative strategy for combating bacterial infections. In this study, however, we describe the use of a nonlytic phage to specifically target and deliver DNA encoding bactericidal proteins to bacteria. To test the concept of using phage as a lethal-agent delivery vehicle, we used the M13 phagemid system and the addiction toxins Gef and ChpBK. Phage delivery of lethal-agent phagemids reduced target bacterial numbers by several orders of magnitude in vitro and in a bacteremic mouse model of infection. Given the powerful genetic engineering tools available and the present knowledge in phage biology, this technology may have potential use in antimicrobial therapies and DNA vaccine development.
A phage moron is a DNA element inserted between a pair of genes in one phage genome that are adjacent in other related phage genomes. Phage morons are commonly found within phage genomes, and in a number of cases, they have been shown to mediate phenotypic changes in the bacterial host. The temperate phage HK97 encodes a moron element, gp15, within its tail morphogenesis region that is absent in most closely related phages. We show that gp15 is actively expressed from the HK97 prophage and is responsible for providing the host cell with resistance to infection by phages HK97 and HK75, independent of repressor immunity. To identify the target(s) of this gp15-mediated resistance, we created a hybrid of HK97 and the related phage HK022. This hybrid phage revealed that the tail tube or tape measure proteins likely mediate the susceptibility of HK97 to inhibition by gp15. The N terminus of gp15 is predicted with high probability to contain a single membrane-spanning helix by several transmembrane prediction programs. Consistent with this putative membrane localization, gp15 acts to prevent the entry of phage DNA into the cytoplasm, acting in a manner reminiscent of those of several previously characterized superinfection exclusion proteins. The N terminus of gp15 and its phage homologues bear sequence similarity to YebO proteins, a family of proteins of unknown function found ubiquitously in enterobacteria. The divergence of their C termini suggests that phages have co-opted this bacterial protein and subverted its activity to their advantage.
Within-host competition between parasites is frequently invoked as a major force for parasite evolution, yet quantitative studies on its extent in an organismal group are lacking. Temperate bacteriophages are diverse and abundant parasites of bacteria, distinguished by their ability to enter a facultative dormant state in their host. Bacteria can accumulate multiple phages that may eventually abandon dormancy in response to host stress. Host resources are then converted into phage particles, whose release requires cell death. To study within-host competition between phages, I used the bacterium Escherichia coli and 11 lambdoid phages to construct single and double lysogens. Lysogenic bacterial cultures were then induced and time to host cell lysis and productivity of phages was measured. In double lysogens, this revealed strong competitive interactions as in all cases productivity of at least one phage declined. The outcome of within-host competition was often asymmetrical, and phages were found to vary hierarchically in within-host competitive ability. In double infections, the phage with the shorter lysis time determined the timing of cell lysis, which was associated with a competitive advantage when time differences were large. The results emphasize that within-host competition greatly affects phage fitness and that multiple infections should be considered an integral part of bacteriophage ecology.
multiple infection; within-host competition; polylysogeny; evolution of virulence; Escherichia coli; bacteriophage λ
Upon infecting populations of susceptible host cells, T-even bacteriophages maximize their yield by switching from lysis at about 25 to 35 min at 37°C after infection by a single phage particle to long-delayed lysis (lysis inhibition) under conditions of sequential infection occurring when free phages outnumber host cells. The timing of lysis depends upon gene t and upon one or more rapid-lysis (r) genes whose inactivation prevents lysis inhibition. t encodes a holin that mediates the movement of the T4 endolysin though the inner cell membrane to its target, the cell wall. The rI protein has been proposed to sense superinfection. Of the five reasonably well characterized r genes, only two, rI and rV, are clearly obligatory for lysis inhibition. We show here that rV mutations are alleles of t that probably render the t protein unable to respond to the lysis inhibition signal. The tr alleles cluster in the 5′ third of t and produce a strong r phenotype, whereas conditional-lethal t alleles produce the classical t phenotype (inability to lyse) and other t alleles produce additional, still poorly understood phenotypes. tr mutations are dominant to t+, a result that suggests specific ways to probe T4 holin function.
The display of binding ligands, such as recombinant antibody fragments, on the surface of filamentous phage makes it possible to specifically attach these phage particles to target cells. After uptake of the phage, their internal single-stranded DNA is processed by the host cell, which allows transient expression of an encoded eukaryotic gene cassette. This opens the possibility to use bacteriophage as vectors for targeted gene therapy, although the transduction efficiency is very low.
Here we demonstrate the display of an anti-CD30 single chain variable fragment fused to the major coat protein pVIII on the surface of bacteriophage. These phage particles showed an improved binding and transduction efficiency of CD30 positive Hodgkin-lymphoma cells, compared to bacteriophage with the anti-CD30 single chain variable fragment fused to the minor coat protein pIII.
We can conclude from the results that the postulated multivalency of the anti-CD30-pVIII displaying bacteriophage combined with disseminated display of the anti-CD30 scFv on the whole particle surface is responsible for the improved gene transfer rate. These results mark an important step towards the use of phage particles as a cheap and safe gene transfer vehicle for the gene delivery of the desired target cells via their specific surface receptors.
Phages play critical roles in the survival and pathogenicity of their hosts, via lysogenic conversion factors, and in nutrient redistribution, via cell lysis. Analyses of phage- and viral-encoded genes in environmental samples provide insights into the physiological impact of viruses on microbial communities and human health. However, phage ORFs are extremely diverse of which over 70% of them are dissimilar to any genes with annotated functions in GenBank. Better identification of viruses would also aid in better detection and diagnosis of disease, in vaccine development, and generally in better understanding the physiological potential of any environment. In contrast to enzymes, viral structural protein function can be much more challenging to detect from sequence data because of low sequence conservation, few known conserved catalytic sites or sequence domains, and relatively limited experimental data. We have designed a method of predicting phage structural protein sequences that uses Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs). First, we trained ANNs to classify viral structural proteins using amino acid frequency; these correctly classify a large fraction of test cases with a high degree of specificity and sensitivity. Subsequently, we added estimates of protein isoelectric points as a feature to ANNs that classify specialized families of proteins, namely major capsid and tail proteins. As expected, these more specialized ANNs are more accurate than the structural ANNs. To experimentally validate the ANN predictions, several ORFs with no significant similarities to known sequences that are ANN-predicted structural proteins were examined by transmission electron microscopy. Some of these self-assembled into structures strongly resembling virion structures. Thus, our ANNs are new tools for identifying phage and potential prophage structural proteins that are difficult or impossible to detect by other bioinformatic analysis. The networks will be valuable when sequence is available but in vitro propagation of the phage may not be practical or possible.
Bacteriophages are extremely abundant and diverse biological entities. All phage particles are comprised of nucleic acids and structural proteins, with few other packaged proteins. Despite their simplicity and abundance, more than 70% of phage sequences in the viral Reference Sequence database encode proteins with unknown function based on FASTA annotations. As a result, the use of sequence similarity is often insufficient for detecting virus structural proteins among unknown viral sequences. Viral structural protein function is challenging to detect from sequence data because structural proteins possess few known conserved catalytic motifs and sequence domains. To address these issues we investigated the use of Artificial Neural Networks as an alternative means of predicting function. Here, we trained thousands of networks using the amino acid frequency of structural protein sequences and identified the optimal architectures with the highest accuracies. Some hypothetical protein sequences detected by our networks were expressed and visualized by TEM, and produced images that strongly resemble virion structures. Our results support the utility of our neural networks in predicting the functions of unknown viral sequences.