Importance of prophages to evolution and virulence of bacterial pathogens

Virulence. 2013 Jul 1;4(5):354-65. doi: 10.4161/viru.24498. Epub 2013 Apr 23.


Bacteriophages, or simply phages, are viruses infecting bacteria. With an estimated 10 ( 31) particles in the biosphere, phages outnumber bacteria by a factor of at least 10 and not surprisingly, they influence the evolution of most bacterial species, sometimes in unexpected ways. "Temperate" phages have the ability to integrate into the chromosome of their host upon infection, where they can reside as "quiescent" prophages until conditions favor their reactivation. Lysogenic conversion resulting from the integration of prophages encoding powerful toxins is probably the most determinant contribution of prophages to the evolution of pathogenic bacteria. We currently grasp only a small fraction of the total phage diversity. Phage biologists keep unraveling novel mechanisms developed by phages to parasitize their host. The purpose of this review is to give an overview of some of the various ways by which prophages change the lifestyle and boost virulence of some of the most dangerous bacterial pathogens.

Keywords: Clostridium; bacterial fitness; bacteriophage; biofilm; evolution; lysogenic conversion; prophage; sporulation; toxins; virulence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Bacteria / virology*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Lysogeny
  • Prophages / genetics*
  • Transduction, Genetic
  • Virulence Factors / genetics*


  • Virulence Factors