Understanding the genetic and ecological factors which support the emergence of new clones of pathogenic bacteria is vital to develop preventive measures. Vibrio cholerae the causative agent of cholera epidemics represents a paradigm for this process in that this organism evolved from environmental non-pathogenic strains by acquisition of virulence genes. The major virulence factors of V. cholerae, cholera toxin (CT) and toxin coregulated pilus (TCP) are encoded by a lysogenic bacteriophage (CTXφ) and a pathogenicity island, respectively. Additional phages which cooperate with the CTXφ in horizontal transfer of genes in V. cholerae have been characterized, and the potential exists for discovering yet new phages or genetic elements which support the transfer of genes for environmental fitness and virulence leading to the emergence of new epidemic strains. Phages have also been shown to play a crucial role in modulating seasonal cholera epidemics. Thus, the complex array of natural phenomena driving the evolution of pathogenic V. cholerae includes, among other factors, phages that either participate in horizontal gene transfer or in a bactericidal selection process favoring the emergence of new clones of V. cholerae.
Keywords: CTX phage; Vibrio cholerae; bacterial evolution; bacteriophage; filamentous phage; lytic vibriophage; virulence genes.