Diversity of Phage Infection Types and Associated Terminology: The Problem With 'Lytic or Lysogenic'

FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2016 Apr;363(7):fnw047. doi: 10.1093/femsle/fnw047. Epub 2016 Feb 29.


Bacteriophages, or phages, are viruses of members of domain Bacteria. These viruses play numerous roles in shaping the diversity of microbial communities, with impact differing depending on what infection strategies specific phages employ. From an applied perspective, these especially are communities containing undesired or pathogenic bacteria that can be modified through phage-mediated bacterial biocontrol, that is, through phage therapy. Here we seek to categorize phages in terms of their infection strategies as well as review or suggest more descriptive, accurate or distinguishing terminology. Categories can be differentiated in terms of (1) whether or not virion release occurs (productive infections versus lysogeny, pseudolysogeny and/or the phage carrier state), (2) the means of virion release (lytic versus chronic release) and (3) the degree to which phages are genetically equipped to display lysogenic cycles (temperate versus non-temperate phages). We address in particular the use or overuse of what can be a somewhat equivocal phrase, 'Lytic or lysogenic', especially when employed as a means of distinguishing among phages types. We suggest that the implied dichotomy is inconsistent with both modern as well as historical understanding of phage biology. We consider, therefore, less ambiguous terminology for distinguishing between 'Lytic' versus 'Lysogenic' phage types.

Keywords: lytic phage; obligately lytic; phage therapy; professionally lytic; strictly lytic; temperate phage.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / virology*
  • Bacteriolysis*
  • Bacteriophages / classification*
  • Bacteriophages / pathogenicity
  • Bacteriophages / physiology*
  • Lysogeny*
  • Phage Therapy
  • Terminology as Topic*