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  1. Hatfull, Graham F. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Bacteria and bacteriophages (phages) have evolved potent defense and counterdefense mechanisms that allowed their survival and greatest abundance on Earth. CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat)-Cas (CRISPR-associated) is a bacterial defense system that inactivates the invading phage genome by introducing double-strand breaks at targeted sequences. While the mechanisms of CRISPR defense have been extensively investigated, the counterdefense mechanisms employed by phages are poorly understood. Here, we report a novel counterdefense mechanism by which phage T4 restores the genomes broken by CRISPR cleavages. Catalyzed by the phage-encoded recombinase UvsX, this mechanism pairs very short stretches of sequence identity (minihomology sites), as few as 3 or 4 nucleotides in the flanking regions of the cleaved site, allowing replication, repair, and stitching of genomic fragments. Consequently, a series of deletions are created at the targeted site, making the progeny genomes completely resistant to CRISPR attack. Our results demonstrate that this is a general mechanism operating against both type II (Cas9) and type V (Cas12a) CRISPR-Cas systems. These studies uncovered a new type of counterdefense mechanism evolved by T4 phage where subtle functional tuning of preexisting DNA metabolism leads to profound impact on phage survival. IMPORTANCE Bacteriophages (phages) are viruses that infectmore »bacteria and use them as replication factories to assemble progeny phages. Bacteria have evolved powerful defense mechanisms to destroy the invading phages by severing their genomes soon after entry into cells. We discovered a counterdefense mechanism evolved by phage T4 to stitch back the broken genomes and restore viral infection. In this process, a small amount of genetic material is deleted or another mutation is introduced, making the phage resistant to future bacterial attack. The mutant virus might also gain survival advantages against other restriction conditions or DNA damaging events. Thus, bacterial attack not only triggers counterdefenses but also provides opportunities to generate more fit phages. Such defense and counterdefense mechanisms over the millennia led to the extraordinary diversity and the greatest abundance of bacteriophages on Earth. Understanding these mechanisms will open new avenues for engineering recombinant phages for biomedical applications.« less
  2. Abstract

    Multi-subunit ring-ATPases carry out a myriad of biological functions, including genome packaging in viruses. Though the basic structures and functions of these motors have been well-established, the mechanisms of ATPase firing and motor coordination are poorly understood. Here, using single-molecule fluorescence, we determine that the active bacteriophage T4 DNA packaging motor consists of five subunits of gp17. By systematically doping motors with an ATPase-defective subunit and selecting single motors containing a precise number of active or inactive subunits, we find that the packaging motor can tolerate an inactive subunit. However, motors containing one or more inactive subunits exhibit fewer DNA engagements, a higher failure rate in encapsidation, reduced packaging velocity, and increased pausing. These findings suggest a DNA packaging model in which the motor, by re-adjusting its grip on DNA, can skip an inactive subunit and resume DNA translocation, suggesting that strict coordination amongst motor subunits of packaging motors is not crucial for function.

  3. Pfeiffer, Julie K. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT The interplay between defense and counterdefense systems of bacteria and bacteriophages has been driving the evolution of both organisms, leading to their great genetic diversity. Restriction-modification systems are well-studied defense mechanisms of bacteria, while phages have evolved covalent modifications as a counterdefense mechanism to protect their genomes against restriction. Here, we present evidence that these genome modifications might also have been selected to counter, broadly, the CRISPR-Cas systems, an adaptive bacterial defense mechanism. We found that the phage T4 genome modified by cytosine hydroxymethylation and glucosylation (ghmC) exhibits various degrees of resistance to the type V CRISPR-Cas12a system, producing orders of magnitude more progeny than the T4(C) mutant, which contains unmodified cytosines. Furthermore, the progeny accumulated CRISPR escape mutations, allowing rapid evolution of mutant phages under CRISPR pressure. A synergistic effect on phage restriction was observed when two CRISPR-Cas12a complexes were targeted to independent sites on the phage genome, another potential countermechanism by bacteria to more effectively defend themselves against modified phages. These studies suggest that the defense-counterdefense mechanisms exhibited by bacteria and phages, while affording protection against one another, also provide evolutionary benefits for both. IMPORTANCE Restriction-modification (R-M) and CRISPR-Cas systems are two well-known defense mechanisms of bacteria.more »Both recognize and cleave phage DNA at specific sites while protecting their own genomes. It is well accepted that T4 and other phages have evolved counterdefense mechanisms to protect their genomes from R-M cleavage by covalent modifications, such as the hydroxymethylation and glucosylation of cytosine. However, it is unclear whether such genome modifications also provide broad protection against the CRISPR-Cas systems. Our results suggest that genome modifications indeed afford resistance against CRISPR systems. However, the resistance is not complete, and it is also variable, allowing rapid evolution of mutant phages that escape CRISPR pressure. Bacteria in turn could target more than one site on the phage genome to more effectively restrict the infection of ghmC-modified phage. Such defense-counterdefense strategies seem to confer survival advantages to both the organisms, one of the possible reasons for their great diversity.« less
  4. Abstract Many viruses employ ATP-powered motors during assembly to translocate DNA into procapsid shells. Previous reports raise the question if motor function is modulated by substrate DNA sequence: (i) the phage T4 motor exhibits large translocation rate fluctuations and pauses and slips; (ii) evidence suggests that the phage phi29 motor contacts DNA bases during translocation; and (iii) one theoretical model, the ‘B-A scrunchworm’, predicts that ‘A-philic’ sequences that transition more easily to A-form would alter motor function. Here, we use single-molecule optical tweezers measurements to compare translocation of phage, plasmid, and synthetic A-philic, GC rich sequences by the T4 motor. We observed no significant differences in motor velocities, even with A-philic sequences predicted to show higher translocation rate at high applied force. We also observed no significant changes in motor pausing and only modest changes in slipping. To more generally test for sequence dependence, we conducted correlation analyses across pairs of packaging events. No significant correlations in packaging rate, pausing or slipping versus sequence position were detected across repeated measurements with several different DNA sequences. These studies suggest that viral genome packaging is insensitive to DNA sequence and fluctuations in packaging motor velocity, pausing and slipping are primarily stochastic temporalmore »events.« less