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1.  Environmental Factors Influencing Gene Transfer Agent (GTA) Mediated Transduction in the Subtropical Ocean 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e43506.
Microbial genomic sequence analyses have indicated widespread horizontal gene transfer (HGT). However, an adequate mechanism accounting for the ubiquity of HGT has been lacking. Recently, high frequencies of interspecific gene transfer have been documented, catalyzed by Gene Transfer Agents (GTAs) of marine α-Proteobacteria. It has been proposed that the presence of bacterial genes in highly purified viral metagenomes may be due to GTAs. However, factors influencing GTA-mediated gene transfer in the environment have not yet been determined. Several genomically sequenced strains containing complete GTA sequences similar to Rhodobacter capsulatus (RcGTA, type strain) were screened to ascertain if they produced putative GTAs, and at what abundance. Five of nine marine strains screened to date spontaneously produced virus-like particles (VLP's) in stationary phase. Three of these strains have demonstrated gene transfer activity, two of which were documented by this lab. These two strains Roseovarius nubinhibens ISM and Nitratireductor 44B9s, were utilized to produce GTAs designated RnGTA and NrGTA and gene transfer activity was verified in culture. Cell-free preparations of purified RnGTA and NrGTA particles from marked donor strains were incubated with natural microbial assemblages to determine the level of GTA-mediated gene transfer. In conjunction, several ambient environmental parameters were measured including lysogeny indicated by prophage induction. GTA production in culture systems indicated that approximately half of the strains produced GTA-like particles and maximal GTA counts ranged from 10–30% of host abundance. Modeling of GTA-mediated gene transfer frequencies in natural samples, along with other measured environmental variables, indicated a strong relationship between GTA mediated gene transfer and the combined factors of salinity, multiplicity of infection (MOI) and ambient bacterial abundance. These results indicate that GTA-mediated HGT in the marine environment with the strains examined is favored during times of elevated bacterial and GTA abundance as well as in areas of higher salinity.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043506
PMCID: PMC3419701  PMID: 22905268
2.  Development of phoH as a Novel Signature Gene for Assessing Marine Phage Diversity▿ 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(21):7730-7739.
Phages play a key role in the marine environment by regulating the transfer of energy between trophic levels and influencing global carbon and nutrient cycles. The diversity of marine phage communities remains difficult to characterize because of the lack of a signature gene common to all phages. Recent studies have demonstrated the presence of host-derived auxiliary metabolic genes in phage genomes, such as those belonging to the Pho regulon, which regulates phosphate uptake and metabolism under low-phosphate conditions. Among the completely sequenced phage genomes in GenBank, this study identified Pho regulon genes in nearly 40% of the marine phage genomes, while only 4% of nonmarine phage genomes contained these genes. While several Pho regulon genes were identified, phoH was the most prevalent, appearing in 42 out of 602 completely sequenced phage genomes. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrated that phage phoH sequences formed a cluster distinct from those of their bacterial hosts. PCR primers designed to amplify a region of the phoH gene were used to determine the diversity of phage phoH sequences throughout a depth profile in the Sargasso Sea and at six locations worldwide. phoH was present at all sites examined, and a high diversity of phoH sequences was recovered. Most phoH sequences belonged to clusters without any cultured representatives. Each depth and geographic location had a distinct phoH composition, although most phoH clusters were recovered from multiple sites. Overall, phoH is an effective signature gene for examining phage diversity in the marine environment.
doi:10.1128/AEM.05531-11
PMCID: PMC3209181  PMID: 21926220

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