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Title: Phage-Encoded Sigma Factors Alter Bacterial Dormancy
ABSTRACT By entering a reversible state of reduced metabolic activity, dormant microorganisms are able to tolerate suboptimal conditions that would otherwise reduce their fitness. Dormancy may also benefit bacteria by serving as a refuge from parasitic infections. Here, we focus on dormancy in the Bacillota , where endospore development is transcriptionally regulated by the expression of sigma factors. A disruption of this process could influence the survivorship or reproduction of phages that infect spore-forming hosts with implications for coevolutionary dynamics. We characterized the distribution of sigma factors in over 4,000 genomes of diverse phages capable of infecting hosts that span the bacterial domain. From this, we identified homologs of sporulation-specific sigma factors in phages that infect spore-forming hosts. Unlike sigma factors required for phage reproduction, we provide evidence that sporulation-like sigma factors are nonessential for lytic infection. However, when expressed in the spore-forming Bacillus subtilis , some of these phage-derived sigma factors can activate the bacterial sporulation gene network and lead to a reduction in spore yield. Our findings suggest that the acquisition of host-like transcriptional regulators may allow phages to manipulate a complex and ancient trait in one of the most abundant cell types on Earth. IMPORTANCE As obligate parasites, phages exert strong top-down pressure on host populations with eco-evolutionary implications for community dynamics and ecosystem functioning. The process of phage infection, however, is constrained by bottom-up processes that influence the energetic and nutritional status of susceptible hosts. Many phages have acquired auxiliary genes from bacteria, which can be used to exploit host metabolism with consequences for phage fitness. In this study, we demonstrate that phages infecting spore-forming bacteria carry homologs of sigma factors, which their hosts use to orchestrate gene expression during spore development. By tapping into regulatory gene networks, phages may manipulate the physiology and survival strategies of nongrowing bacteria in ways that influence host-parasite coevolution.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1934554 2022049
NSF-PAR ID:
10394127
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ;
Editor(s):
Imperiale, Michael J.
Date Published:
Journal Name:
mSphere
Volume:
7
Issue:
4
ISSN:
2379-5042
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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