A virus lurking in a bacterial genome protects its host population from infection with other phages, by killing off infected cells!
Microbe of the episode:
Many bacteriophages just go in and gobble up all their host's resources to make a bunch of new viruses right away. Others play a longer game, splicing into and lurking in the host's genome across multiple generations until conditions are right to multiply more rapidly. It is beneficial to these latter kind when their host is resistant to the fast-killing variety, but how can bacteria be resistant to some phages but not others?
In this study, one prophage (the phage genome integrated into the bacterial genome) carries a gene that does this in an interesting way. It prevents invading phages from replicating and kills the host cell so the infection can't spread, protecting the population (and all the other cells containing the prophage). It also contains an immunity element that allows the prophage to replicate itself without interference.
Owen SV, Wenner N, Dulberger CL, Rodwell EV, Bowers-Barnard A, Quinones-Olvera N, Rigden DJ, Rubin EJ, Garner EC, Baym M, Hinton JCD. 2021. Prophages encode phage-defense systems with cognate self-immunity. Cell Host Microbe 29:1620-1633.e8.
Other interesting stories:
- Migration affects birds' gut microbiota
- Sometimes E. coli can keep Salmonella from causing problems in the gut
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