Bacteriophages and their genomes

Curr Opin Virol. 2011 Oct;1(4):298-303. doi: 10.1016/j.coviro.2011.06.009.


Bacteriophages occupy a unique position in biology, representing an absolute majority of all organisms in the biosphere. Because their genomes are relatively small, elucidating the genetic diversity of the phage population, deciphering their origins, and identifying the evolutionary mechanisms that shape the population would seem readily feasible. And yet the pace of phage genome characterization has slowed over the past three years, reflecting in part a need to transition from sequencing known and well-characterized bacteriophages to the isolation and comparative analysis of new isolates. The current state of bacteriophage genomics shows that the genetic diversity of the population is very high, that phages have been actively evolving for billions of years with active engagement of horizontal genetic exchange, and that their genomes are consequently pervasively mosaic in their architectures. But we have barely scratched the surface and the next years of phage genome exploration promise to be especially revealing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophages / classification
  • Bacteriophages / genetics*
  • Bacteriophages / isolation & purification
  • Biological Evolution
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genome, Viral*
  • Phylogeny