Bacteriophage Genomics

Curr Opin Microbiol. 2008 Oct;11(5):447-53. doi: 10.1016/j.mib.2008.09.004. Epub 2008 Oct 14.


The past three years have seen an escalation in the number of sequenced bacteriophage genomes with more than 500 now in the NCBI phage database, representing a more than threefold increase since 2005. These span at least 70 different bacterial hosts, with two-thirds of the sequenced genomes of phages representing only eight bacterial hosts. Three key features emerge from the comparative analysis of these genomes. First, they span a very high degree of genetic diversity, suggesting early evolutionary origins. Second, the genome architectures are mosaic, reflecting an unusually high degree of horizontal genetic exchange in their evolution. Third, phage genomes contain a very high proportion of novel genetic sequences of unknown function, and probably represent the largest reservoir of unexplored genes. With an estimated 10(31) bacterial and archael viruses in the biosphere, our view of the virosphere will draw into sharper focus as further bacteriophage genomes are characterized.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophages / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genome, Viral*
  • Genomics