The impact of prophages on bacterial chromosomes

Mol Microbiol. 2004 Jul;53(1):9-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2004.04113.x.


Prophages were automatically localized in sequenced bacterial genomes by a simple semantic script leading to the identification of 190 prophages in 115 investigated genomes. The distribution of prophages with respect to presence or absence in a given bacterial species, the location and orientation of the prophages on the replichore was not homogeneous. In bacterial pathogens, prophages are particularly prominent. They frequently encoded virulence genes and were major contributors to the genetic individuality of the strains. However, some commensal and free-living bacteria also showed prominent prophage contributions to the bacterial genomes. Lysogens containing multiple sequence-related prophages can experience rearrangements of the bacterial genome across prophages, leading to prophages with new gene constellations. Transfer RNA genes are the preferred chromosomal integration sites, and a number of prophages also carry tRNA genes. Prophage integration into protein coding sequences can lead to either gene disruption or new proteins. The phage repressor, immunity and lysogenic conversion genes are frequently transcribed from the prophage. The expression of the latter is sometimes integrated into control circuits linking prophages, the lysogenic bacterium and its animal host. Prophages are apparently as easily acquired as they are lost from the bacterial chromosome. Fixation of prophage genes seems to be restricted to those with functions that have been co-opted by the bacterial host.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / virology*
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • DNA, Viral / physiology
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • Prophages / genetics
  • Prophages / physiology*


  • DNA, Viral