Virus genes from city pond rescue bacteria

May 28, 2018, Uppsala University
Escherichia coli. Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

A key question in evolutionary biology is how new functions arise. New research at Uppsala University, Sweden, shows that bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) can contribute to new functions by revealing hidden potential in their bacterial hosts.

Bacteriophages are the most numerous organisms on Earth. Every day, they infect and kill 15 to 30 percent of all in the world's oceans. In a new study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, researchers have investigated how bacteriophages, instead of killing bacteria, transmit genes that help the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli) survive.

"We found a new, unexpected mechanism whereby genes from bacteriophages enable bacteria to use their hidden potential and establish a new function," says researcher and lead author Jon Jerlström-Hultqvist.

First, the scientists removed an essential gene (ilvA) from the bacterium. They then investigated whether bacteriophage genes (isolated from Svandammen, "Swan Pond", in central Uppsala) could rescue the bacteria. The researchers identified a new group of that code for enzymes: S-adenosyl methionine (SAM) hydrolases. These enzymes break down SAM and, as a result, boost biosynthesis of the , a precursor to SAM. One of the enzymes required for methionine biosynthesis has a side reaction that enables the E. coli bacterium to compensate for the absence of the essential ilvA gene.

The study in question shows that, to understand how a bacterium works, the functions normally found in bacteria are not the only ones that need investigating. The hidden potential of the bacterial cell can be manifested when its metabolic state changes, for example in a bacteriophage infection. According to Professor Dan I. Andersson, who heads the study in question,

"The new function in this study is that these enzymes have the ability to break down an important cell component (SAM) of the bacterium. When this component breaks down, the bacterial cell resets its metabolism and a new becomes available. Moreover, it is very important to understand the hidden potential of bacteria and whether it can affect the development of antibiotic resistance and its pathogenicity," says Professor Andersson, who heads the study.

Explore further: Researchers assassinate disease-causing bacteria with virus cocktail

More information: Jon Jerlström Hultqvist et al, A bacteriophage enzyme induces bacterial metabolic perturbation that confers a novel promiscuous function, Nature Ecology & Evolution (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0568-5

Related Stories

Workbench for virus design

February 5, 2018

ETH researchers have developed a technology platform that allows them to systematically modify and customise bacteriophages. This technology is a step towards making phage therapies a powerful tool for combating dangerous ...

Fighting bacteria—with viruses

July 24, 2014

Research published today in PLOS Pathogens reveals how viruses called bacteriophages destroy the bacterium Clostridium difficile (C. diff), which is becoming a serious problem in hospitals and healthcare institutes, due to ...

Recommended for you

Female golden snub-nosed monkeys share nursing of young

February 21, 2019

An international team of researchers including The University of Western Australia and China's Central South University of Forestry and Technology has discovered that female golden snub-nosed monkeys in China are happy to ...

When does one of the central ideas in economics work?

February 20, 2019

The concept of equilibrium is one of the most central ideas in economics. It is one of the core assumptions in the vast majority of economic models, including models used by policymakers on issues ranging from monetary policy ...

In colliding galaxies, a pipsqueak shines bright

February 20, 2019

In the nearby Whirlpool galaxy and its companion galaxy, M51b, two supermassive black holes heat up and devour surrounding material. These two monsters should be the most luminous X-ray sources in sight, but a new study using ...

Research reveals why the zebra got its stripes

February 20, 2019

Why do zebras have stripes? A study published in PLOS ONE today takes us another step closer to answering this puzzling question and to understanding how stripes actually work.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.