Phage targets for adsorption can include: (1) individual bacteria; (2) bacterial cellular arrangements such as streptococci; (3) microcolonies consisting of bacterial clones as can make up bacterial lawns and biofilms; and (4) bacterial biofilms themselves. While much effort has gone into considering category 1, and some into category 4, substantially less has been put into the question of how bacterial association into clonal arrangements or microcolonies might affect phage-bacterial interactions. Recently I have been exploring just this issue—within a single-authored monograph published in 2011 and a theoretical article published in 2012 as part of a special issue of the journal, Viruses. For this commentary, I have been invited to summarize my thinking on how bacterial association into either cellular arrangements or microcolonies might affect their susceptibility to phages along with related issues of bacterial resistance to phages and phage propagation in the context of both plaques and biofilms.
bacteriophages; biofilm; cellular arrangement; lysis inhibition; microcolony; phage; phage ecology; plaque formation; T-even phages
The ability of bacteria to survive and propagate can be dramatically reduced upon exposure to lytic bacteriophages. Study of this impact, from a bacterium’s perspective, tends to focus on phage-bacterial interactions that are governed by mass action, such as can be observed within continuous flow or similarly planktonic ecosystems. Alternatively, bacterial molecular properties can be examined, such as specific phage‑resistance adaptations. In this study I address instead how limitations on bacterial movement, resulting in the formation of cellular arrangements, microcolonies, or biofilms, could increase the vulnerability of bacteria to phages. Principally: (1) Physically associated clonal groupings of bacteria can represent larger targets for phage adsorption than individual bacteria; and (2), due to a combination of proximity and similar phage susceptibility, individual bacteria should be especially vulnerable to phages infecting within the same clonal, bacterial grouping. Consistent with particle transport theory—the physics of movement within fluids—these considerations are suggestive that formation into arrangements, microcolonies, or biofilms could be either less profitable to bacteria when phage predation pressure is high or require more effective phage-resistance mechanisms than seen among bacteria not living within clonal clusters. I consider these ideas of bacterial ‘spatial vulnerability’ in part within a phage therapy context.
adsorption; bacteriophage; biofilms; cellular arrangements; ecology; microcolonies; particle transport; phages; phage therapy
Vertebrate animals possess multiple anti-pathogen defenses. Individual mechanisms usually are differentiated into those that are immunologically adaptive vs. more “primitive” anti-pathogen phenomena described as innate responses. Here I frame defenses used by bacteria against bacteriophages as analogous to these animal immune functions. Included are numerous anti-phage defenses in addition to the adaptive immunity associated with CRISPR/cas systems. As these other anti-pathogen mechanisms are non-adaptive they can be described as making up an innate bacterial immunity. This exercise was undertaken in light of the recent excitement over the discovery that CRISPR/cas systems can serve, as noted, as a form of bacterial adaptive immunity. The broader goal, however, is to gain novel insight into bacterial defenses against phages by fitting these mechanisms into considerations of how multicellular organisms also defend themselves against pathogens. This commentary can be viewed in addition as a bid toward integrating these numerous bacterial anti-phage defenses into a more unified immunology.
abortive infection; adsorption resistance; antigen presentation; CRISPR; innate immunity; restriction-modification
It can be difficult to appreciate just how small bacteria and phages are or how large, in comparison, the volumes that they occupy. A single milliliter, for example, can represent to a phage what would be, with proper scaling, an “ocean” to you and me. Here I illustrate, using more easily visualized macroscopic examples, the difficulties that a phage, as a randomly diffusing particle, can have in locating bacteria to infect. I conclude by restating the truism that the rate of phage adsorption to a given target bacterium is a function of phage density, that is, titer, in combination with the degree of bacterial susceptibility to adsorption by an encountering phage.
mean free path; phage adsorption; phage therapy
We identified 30 actual or presumptive “bacteriophage” references dating between the years 1895 and 1917 and have further explored one of the oldest: Hankin's 1896 study of a bactericidal action associated with the waters of the Ganges and Jumna rivers in India. As Hankin's work took place approximately 20 years prior to the actual discovery of bacteriophages, no claims were made as to a possible phage nature of the phenomenon. Here we suggest that it may be imprudent to assume nevertheless that it represents an early observation of phagemediated bactericidal activity. Our principal argument is that the antibacterial aspect of these river waters was able to retain full potency following “heating” for one-half hour in hermetically sealed tubes, where heating in “open” tubes resulted in loss of antibacterial activity. We also suggest that environmental phage counts would have had to have been unusually high—greater than 106/ml impacting a single host strain—to achieve the rates of bacterial loss that Hankin observed.
Ganges River; history; natural bactericidal activity; presumptive early phage references
CRISPR systems, as bacterial defenses against phages, logically must display in their functioning a sequence of at least three major steps. These, in order of occurrence, are “facilitation,” adaptation and interference, where the facilitation step is the main issue considered in this commentary. Interference is the blocking of phage infections as mediated in part by CRISPR spacer sequences. Adaptation, at least as narrowly defined, is the acquisition of these spacer sequences by CRISPR loci. Facilitation, in turn and as defined here, corresponds to phage-naïve bacteria avoiding death follow first-time exposure to specific phages, where bacterial survival of course is necessary for subsequent spacer acquisition. Working from a variety of perspectives, I argue that a requirement for facilitation suggests that CRISPR systems may play secondary rather than primary roles as bacterial defenses, particularly against more virulent phages. So considered, the role of facilitation in CRISPR functioning could be viewed as analogous to the building, in vertebrate animals, of adaptive immunity upon an immunological foundation comprised of mechanisms that are both more generally acting and innate.
adaptation; adaptive immunity; CRISPR; innate immunity; restriction-modification
Many publications list advantages and disadvantages associated with phage therapy, which is the use of bacterial viruses to combat populations of nuisance or pathogenic bacteria. The goal of this commentary is to discuss many of those issues in a single location. In terms of “Pros,” for example, phages can be bactericidal, can increase in number over the course of treatment, tend to only minimally disrupt normal flora, are equally effective against antibiotic-sensitive and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, often are easily discovered, seem to be capable of disrupting bacterial biofilms, and can have low inherent toxicities. In addition to these assets, we consider aspects of phage therapy that can contribute to its safety, economics, or convenience, but in ways that are perhaps less essential to the phage potential to combat bacteria. For example, autonomous phage transfer between animals during veterinary application could provide convenience or economic advantages by decreasing the need for repeated phage application, but is not necessarily crucial to therapeutic success. We also consider possible disadvantages to phage use as antibacterial agents. These “Cons,” however, tend to be relatively minor.
alternative medicine; antibiotics; antimicrobial drugs; biocontrol; phage therapy
Phages as bactericidal agents have been employed for 90 years as a means of treating bacterial infections in humans as well as other species, a process known as phage therapy. In this review we explore both the early historical and more modern use of phages to treat human infections. We discuss in particular the little-reviewed French early work, along with the Polish, US, Georgian and Russian historical experiences. We also cover other, more modern examples of phage therapy of humans as differentiated in terms of disease. In addition, we provide discussions of phage safety, other aspects of phage therapy pharmacology, and the idea of phage use as probiotics.
phage history; phage therapy; pharmacology; probiotics; safety; treatment of infectious disease
In this commentary I consider use of the term “lysis from without” (LO) along with the phenomenon's biological relevance. LO originally described an early bacterial lysis induced by high-multiplicity virion adsorption and that occurs without phage production (here indicated as LOV). Notably, this is more than just high phage multiplicities of adsorption leading to bacterial killing. The action on bacteria of exogenously supplied phage lysin, too, has been described as a form of LO (here, LOL). LOV has been somewhat worked out mechanistically for T4 phages, has been used to elucidate various phage-associated phenomena including discovery of the phage eclipse, may be relevant to phage ecology, and, with resistance to LO (LOR), is blocked by certain phage gene products. Speculation as to the impact of LOV on phage therapy also is fairly common. Since LOV assays are relatively easily performed and not all phages are able to induce LOV, a phage's potential to lyse bacteria without first infecting should be subject to at least in vitro experimental confirmation before the LOV label is applied. The term “abortive infection” may be used more generally to describe non-productive phage infections that kill bacteria.
abortive infection; bacteriophage; lysin; lysis; lysis from without; phage therapy
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.
Exotoxins; Virulence Factors; Phage; Bacteriophage
The antiterminator Q gene of bacteriophage 933W (Q933) was identified upstream of the stx2 gene in 90% of human disease–origin Escherichia coli O157:H7 isolates and in 44.5% of bovine isolates. Shiga toxin production was higher in Q933-positive isolates than Q933-negative isolates. This genetic marker may provide a useful molecular tool for epidemiologic studies.
E. coli O157; Shiga-toxin production; stx2-encoding phages; dispatch
For obligately lytic bacteriophage (phage) a trade-off exists between fecundity (burst size) and latent period (a component of generation time). This trade-off occurs because release of phage progeny from infected bacteria coincides with destruction of the machinery necessary to produce more phage progeny. Here we employ phage mutants to explore issues of phage latent-period evolution as a function of the density of phage-susceptible bacteria. Theory suggests that higher bacterial densities should select for shorter phage latent periods. Consistently, we have found that higher host densities (≥∼107 bacteria/ml) can enrich stocks of phage RB69 for variants that display shorter latent periods than the wild type. One such variant, dubbed sta5, displays a latent period that is ∼70 to 80% of that of the wild type—which is nearly as short as the RB69 eclipse period—and which has a corresponding burst size that is ∼30% of that of the wild type. We show that at higher host densities (≥∼107 bacteria/ml) the sta5 phage can outcompete the RB69 wild type, though only under conditions of direct (same-culture) competition. We interpret this advantage as corresponding to slightly faster sta5 population growth, resulting in multifold increases in mutant frequency during same-culture growth. The sta5 advantage is lost, however, given indirect (different-culture) competition between the wild type and mutant or given same-culture competition but at lower densities of phage-susceptible bacteria (≤∼106 bacteria/ml). From these observations we suggest that phage displaying very short latent periods may be viewed as specialists for propagation when bacteria within cultures are highly prevalent and transmission between cultures is easily accomplished.
Bacteriophages (phages) modify microbial communities by lysing hosts, transferring genetic material, and effecting lysogenic conversion. To understand how natural communities are affected it is important to develop predictive models. Here we consider how variation between models—in eclipse period, latent period, adsorption constant, burst size, the handling of differences in host quantity and host quality, and in modeling strategy—can affect predictions. First we compare two published models of phage growth, which differ primarily in terms of how they model the kinetics of phage adsorption; one is a computer simulation and the other is an explicit calculation. At higher host quantities (∼108 cells/ml), both models closely predict experimentally determined phage population growth rates. At lower host quantities (107 cells/ml), the computer simulation continues to closely predict phage growth rates, but the explicit model does not. Next we concentrate on predictions of latent-period optima. A latent-period optimum is the latent period that maximizes the population growth of a specific phage growing in the presence of a specific quantity and quality of host cells. Both models predict similar latent-period optima at higher host densities (e.g., 17 min at 108 cells/ml). At lower host densities, however, the computer simulation predicts latent-period optima that are much shorter than those suggested by explicit calculations (e.g., 90 versus 1,250 min at 105 cells/ml). Finally, we consider the impact of host quality on phage latent-period evolution. By taking care to differentiate latent-period phenotypic plasticity from latent-period evolution, we argue that the impact of host quality on phage latent-period evolution may be relatively small.