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Phage host range and definition of genes implicated in Type III toxin-antitoxin-mediated abortive infection



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Chai, Ray 


Bacteria are under constant threat by their viral parasites, the bacteriophages (phages) and have evolved a range of anti-phage systems to defend themselves. One of these systems is termed abortive infection (Abi) where, upon phage infection, an Abi system may be activated which initiate a bacteriostatic or bactericidal response. While the infected bacteria do not obviously benefit from the activation of these systems, the cessation of bacterial growth or premature cellular suicide prevents the release of phage progeny. Thus Abi can be viewed as an altruistic process as only the remaining clonal bacterial population benefits. The Type III toxin-antitoxin systems have previously been shown to be involved in Abi, however the mechanisms through which these systems are activated are still poorly understood. A common approach to reveal the phage product involved in triggering these systems is to first determine the mutations that a previously sensitive phage evolves to escape after exposure to an Abi system. Analysis of viral "escape" mutants has been used in this study to try to elucidate the activation mechanism(s) of two Type III systems (ToxINPa and TenpINPl) of several environmental phages. Several new phage products were identified in escape mutants as candidate factors involved in circumventing Abi – and possible roles in phage metabolism predicted. Furthermore, the genomes of several phages that could not evolve escapes, or were insensitive to Abi, are sequenced and these data exposed interesting curiosities regarding Abi (as well as the discovery of several novel and rare phages). Previously, no coliphage was identified that was capable of escape of the ToxINPa or TenpINPl systems. However, this study defined and characterised the first ToxINPa and TenpINPl coliphage escapes as well as a new method for isolating host-dependent coliphage escapes. Finally, multiple phages that infect the insect pathogen Photorhabdus luminescens TT01 (the bacterial strain from which the TenpINPl system originated) were isolated, genomically sequenced and characterised in terms of host range. The results revealed a large superfamily of flagellum-dependent phages that exhibit remarkable host promiscuity, possibly defining the most promiscuous phages thus far identified.





Salmond, George


Phage, Type III toxin antitoxin, abortive infection


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge