skip to main content


Title: Marine viral particles reveal an expansive repertoire of phage-parasitizing mobile elements
Phage satellites are mobile genetic elements that propagate by parasitizing bacteriophage replication. We report here the discovery of abundant and diverse phage satellites that were packaged as concatemeric repeats within naturally occurring bacteriophage particles in seawater. These same phage-parasitizing mobile elements were found integrated in the genomes of dominant co-occurring bacterioplankton species. Like known phage satellites, many marine phage satellites encoded genes for integration, DNA replication, phage interference, and capsid assembly. Many also contained distinctive gene suites indicative of unique virus hijacking, phage immunity, and mobilization mechanisms. Marine phage satellite sequences were widespread in local and global oceanic virioplankton populations, reflecting their ubiquity, abundance, and temporal persistence in marine planktonic communities worldwide. Their gene content and putative life cycles suggest they may impact host-cell phage immunity and defense, lateral gene transfer, bacteriophage-induced cell mortality and cellular host and virus productivity. Given that marine phage satellites cannot be distinguished from bona fide viral particles via commonly used microscopic techniques, their predicted numbers (∼3.2 × 10 26 in the ocean) may influence current estimates of virus densities, production, and virus-induced mortality. In total, the data suggest that marine phage satellites have potential to significantly impact the ecology and evolution of bacteria and their viruses throughout the oceans. We predict that any habitat that harbors bacteriophage will also harbor similar phage satellites, making them a ubiquitous feature of most microbiomes on Earth.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
2049004
NSF-PAR ID:
10431988
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Volume:
119
Issue:
43
ISSN:
0027-8424
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. ABSTRACT Viral infection exerts selection pressure on marine microbes, as virus-induced cell lysis causes 20 to 50% of cell mortality, resulting in fluxes of biomass into oceanic dissolved organic matter. Archaeal and bacterial populations can defend against viral infection using the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-associated (Cas) system, which relies on specific matching between a spacer sequence and a viral gene. If a CRISPR spacer match to any gene within a viral genome is equally effective in preventing lysis, no viral genes should be preferentially matched by CRISPR spacers. However, if there are differences in effectiveness, certain viral genes may demonstrate a greater frequency of CRISPR spacer matches. Indeed, homology search analyses of bacterioplankton CRISPR spacer sequences against virioplankton sequences revealed preferential matching of replication proteins, nucleic acid binding proteins, and viral structural proteins. Positive selection pressure for effective viral defense is one parsimonious explanation for these observations. CRISPR spacers from virioplankton metagenomes preferentially matched methyltransferase and phage integrase genes within virioplankton sequences. These virioplankton CRISPR spacers may assist infected host cells in defending against competing phage. Analyses also revealed that half of the spacer-matched viral genes were unknown, some genes matched several spacers, and some spacers matched multiple genes, a many-to-many relationship. Thus, CRISPR spacer matching may be an evolutionary algorithm, agnostically identifying those genes under stringent selection pressure for sustaining viral infection and lysis. Investigating this subset of viral genes could reveal those genetic mechanisms essential to virus-host interactions and provide new technologies for optimizing CRISPR defense in beneficial microbes. IMPORTANCE The CRISPR-Cas system is one means by which bacterial and archaeal populations defend against viral infection which causes 20 to 50% of cell mortality in the ocean. We tested the hypothesis that certain viral genes are preferentially targeted for the initial attack of the CRISPR-Cas system on a viral genome. Using CASC, a pipeline for CRISPR spacer discovery, and metagenome data from oceanic microbes and viruses, we found a clear subset of viral genes with high match frequencies to CRISPR spacers. Moreover, we observed a many-to-many relationship of spacers and viral genes. These high-match viral genes were involved in nucleotide metabolism, DNA methylation, and viral structure. It is possible that CRISPR spacer matching is an evolutionary algorithm pointing to those viral genes most important to sustaining infection and lysis. Studying these genes may advance the understanding of virus-host interactions in nature and provide new technologies for leveraging CRISPR-Cas systems in beneficial microbes. 
    more » « less
  2. McMahon, Katherine (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Mobile genetic elements (MGEs) drive bacterial evolution, alter gene availability within microbial communities, and facilitate adaptation to ecological niches. In natural systems, bacteria simultaneously possess or encounter multiple MGEs, yet their combined influences on microbial communities are poorly understood. Here, we investigate interactions among MGEs in the marine bacterium Sulfitobacter pontiacus . Two related strains, CB-D and CB-A, each harbor a single prophage. These prophages share high sequence identity with one another and an integration site within the host genome, yet these strains exhibit differences in “spontaneous” prophage induction (SPI) and consequent fitness. To better understand mechanisms underlying variation in SPI between these lysogens, we closed their genomes, which revealed that in addition to harboring different prophage genotypes, CB-A lacks two of the four large, low-copy-number plasmids possessed by CB-D. To assess the relative roles of plasmid content versus prophage genotype on host physiology, a panel of derivative strains varying in MGE content were generated. Characterization of these derivatives revealed a robust link between plasmid content and SPI, regardless of prophage genotype. Strains possessing all four plasmids had undetectable phage in cell-free lysates, while strains lacking either one plasmid (pSpoCB-1) or a combination of two plasmids (pSpoCB-2 and pSpoCB-4) produced high (>10 5 PFU/mL) phage titers. Homologous plasmid sequences were identified in related bacteria, and plasmid and phage genes were found to be widespread in Tara Oceans metagenomic data sets. This suggests that plasmid-dependent stabilization of prophages may be commonplace throughout the oceans. IMPORTANCE The consequences of prophage induction on the physiology of microbial populations are varied and include enhanced biofilm formation, conferral of virulence, and increased opportunity for horizontal gene transfer. These traits lead to competitive advantages for lysogenized bacteria and influence bacterial lifestyles in a variety of niches. However, biological controls of “spontaneous” prophage induction, the initiation of phage replication and phage-mediated cell lysis without an overt stressor, are not well understood. In this study, we observed a novel interaction between plasmids and prophages in the marine bacterium Sulfitobacter pontiacus . We found that loss of one or more distinct plasmids—which we show carry genes ubiquitous in the world’s oceans—resulted in a marked increase in prophage induction within lysogenized strains. These results demonstrate cross talk between different mobile genetic elements and have implications for our understanding of the lysogenic-lytic switches of prophages found not only in marine environments, but throughout all ecosystems. 
    more » « less
  3. Buchan, Alison (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT The ability of Bradyrhizobium spp. to nodulate and fix atmospheric nitrogen in soybean root nodules is critical to meeting humanity’s nutritional needs. The intricacies of soybean bradyrhizobia-plant interactions have been studied extensively; however, bradyrhizobial ecology as influenced by phages has received somewhat less attention, even though these interactions may significantly impact soybean yield. In batch culture, four soybean bradyrhizobia strains, Bradyrhizobium japonicum S06B (S06B-Bj), B. japonicum S10J (S10J-Bj), Bradyrhizobium diazoefficiens USDA 122 (USDA 122-Bd), and Bradyrhizobium elkanii USDA 76 T (USDA 76-Be), spontaneously (without apparent exogenous chemical or physical induction) produced tailed phages throughout the growth cycle; for three strains, phage concentrations exceeded cell numbers by ~3-fold after 48 h of incubation. Phage terminase large-subunit protein phylogeny revealed possible differences in phage packaging and replication mechanisms. Bioinformatic analyses predicted multiple prophage regions within each soybean bradyrhizobia genome, preventing accurate identification of spontaneously produced prophage (SPP) genomes. A DNA sequencing and mapping approach accurately delineated the boundaries of four SPP genomes within three of the soybean bradyrhizobia chromosomes and suggested that the SPPs were capable of transduction. In addition to the phages, S06B-Bj and USDA 76-Be contained three to four times more insertion sequences (IS) and large, conjugable, broad host range plasmids, both of which are known drivers of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) in soybean bradyrhizobia. These factors indicate that SPP along with IS and plasmids participate in HGT, drive bradyrhizobia evolution, and play an outsized role in bradyrhizobia ecology. IMPORTANCE Previous studies have shown that IS and plasmids mediate HGT of symbiotic nodulation ( nod ) genes in soybean bradyrhizobia; however, these events require close cell-to-cell contact, which could be limited in soil environments. Bacteriophage-assisted gene transduction through spontaneously produced prophages provides a stable means of HGT not limited by the constraints of proximal cell-to-cell contact. These phage-mediated HGT events may shape soybean bradyrhizobia population ecology, with concomitant impacts on soybean agriculture. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Ecologists have long studied the evolution of niche breadth, including how variability in environments can drive the evolution of specialism and generalism. This concept is of particular interest in viruses, where niche breadth evolution may explain viral disease emergence, or underlie the potential for therapeutic measures like phage therapy. Despite the significance and potential applications of virus–host interactions, the genetic determinants of niche breadth evolution remain underexplored in many bacteriophages. In this study, we present the results of an evolution experiment with a model bacteriophage system,Escherichia virus T4,in several host environments: exposure toEscherichia coliC, exposure toE. coliK‐12, and exposure to bothE. coliC andE. coliK‐12. This experimental framework allowed us to investigate the phenotypic and molecular manifestations of niche breadth evolution. First, we show that selection on different hosts led to measurable changes in phage productivity in all experimental populations. Second, whole—genome sequencing of experimental populations revealed signatures of selection. Finally, clear and consistent patterns emerged across the host environments, especially the presence of new mutations in phage structural genes—genes encoding proteins that provide morphological and biophysical integrity to a virus. A comparison of mutations found across functional gene categories revealed that structural genes acquired significantly more mutations than other categories. Our findings suggest that structural genes are central determinants in bacteriophage niche breadth.

     
    more » « less
  5. Abstract Nucleoid Associated Proteins (NAPs) organize the bacterial chromosome within the nucleoid. The interaction of the NAP H-NS with DNA also represses specific host and xenogeneic genes. Previously, we showed that the bacteriophage T4 early protein MotB binds to DNA, co-purifies with H-NS/DNA, and improves phage fitness. Here we demonstrate using atomic force microscopy that MotB compacts the DNA with multiple MotB proteins at the center of the complex. These complexes differ from those observed with H-NS and other NAPs, but resemble those formed by the NAP-like proteins CbpA/Dps and yeast condensin. Fluorescent microscopy indicates that expression of motB in vivo, at levels like that during T4 infection, yields a significantly compacted nucleoid containing MotB and H-NS. motB overexpression dysregulates hundreds of host genes; ∼70% are within the hns regulon. In infected cells overexpressing motB, 33 T4 late genes are expressed early, and the T4 early gene repEB, involved in replication initiation, is up ∼5-fold. We postulate that MotB represents a phage-encoded NAP that aids infection in a previously unrecognized way. We speculate that MotB-induced compaction may generate more room for T4 replication/assembly and/or leads to beneficial global changes in host gene expression, including derepression of much of the hns regulon. 
    more » « less