Frequency and fitness consequences of bacteriophage φ6 host range mutations

PLoS One. 2014 Nov 19;9(11):e113078. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113078. eCollection 2014.


Viruses readily mutate and gain the ability to infect novel hosts, but few data are available regarding the number of possible host range-expanding mutations allowing infection of any given novel host, and the fitness consequences of these mutations on original and novel hosts. To gain insight into the process of host range expansion, we isolated and sequenced 69 independent mutants of the dsRNA bacteriophage Φ6 able to infect the novel host, Pseudomonas pseudoalcaligenes. In total, we found at least 17 unique suites of mutations among these 69 mutants. We assayed fitness for 13 of 17 mutant genotypes on P. pseudoalcaligenes and the standard laboratory host, P. phaseolicola. Mutants exhibited significantly lower fitnesses on P. pseudoalcaligenes compared to P. phaseolicola. Furthermore, 12 of the 13 assayed mutants showed reduced fitness on P. phaseolicola compared to wildtype Φ6, confirming the prevalence of antagonistic pleiotropy during host range expansion. Further experiments revealed that the mechanistic basis of these fitness differences was likely variation in host attachment ability. In addition, using computational protein modeling, we show that host-range expanding mutations occurred in hotspots on the surface of the phage's host attachment protein opposite a putative hydrophobic anchoring domain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophage phi 6 / genetics*
  • Bacteriophage phi 6 / physiology
  • Binding Sites
  • Genetic Fitness
  • Host Specificity
  • Models, Molecular
  • Mutation Rate
  • Pseudomonas pseudoalcaligenes / genetics
  • Pseudomonas pseudoalcaligenes / virology*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Viral Proteins / chemistry
  • Viral Proteins / genetics*


  • Viral Proteins

Grant support

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Award #1148879 (JJD), Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York Award #62886-00-40 (JJD), and National Science Foundation Division of Environmental Biology Award #0804039 (JJD). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.