Viral molecular mimicry circumvents abortive infection and suppresses bacterial suicide to make hosts permissive for replication

Bacteriophage. 2012 Oct 1;2(4):234-238. doi: 10.4161/bact.23830.


The global interplay between bacteria and bacteriophages has generated many macromolecules useful in biotechnology, through the co-evolutionary see-saw of bacterial defense and viral counter-attack measures. Bacteria can protect themselves using abortive infection systems, which induce altruistic suicide in an infected cell and therefore protect the clonal population at the expense of the infected individual. Our recent paper describes how bacteriophage ΦTE successfully subverted the activity of a plasmid-borne abortive infection system. ΦTE evolved mimics of the small RNA antitoxin that naturally inhibits the active toxin component of this anti-viral mechanism. These mutant phages further manipulated the behavior of the host population, through transduction of the plasmid encoding the abortive infection system. Transductants thereby became enslaved by the abortive infection system, committing suicide in response to infection by the original phage population. In effect, the new host was infected by an "addictive altruism," to the advantage of the resistant bacteriophage.

Keywords: Pectobacterium atrosepticum; RNA pseudoknot; abortive infection; bacteriophage; mimicry; phage resistance; toxin-antitoxin; transduction.