A Widespread Family of Polymorphic Toxins Encoded by Temperate Phages

BMC Biol. 2017 Aug 29;15(1):75. doi: 10.1186/s12915-017-0415-1.


Background: Polymorphic toxins (PTs) are multi-domain bacterial exotoxins belonging to distinct families that share common features in terms of domain organization. PTs are found in all major bacterial clades, including many toxic effectors of type V and type VI secretion systems. PTs modulate the dynamics of microbial communities by killing or inhibiting the growth of bacterial competitors lacking protective immunity proteins.

Results: In this work, we identified a novel widespread family of PTs, named MuF toxins, which were exclusively encoded within temperate phages and their prophages. By analyzing the predicted proteomes of 1845 bacteriophages and 2464 bacterial genomes, we found that MuF-containing proteins were frequently part of the DNA packaging module of tailed phages. Interestingly, MuF toxins were abundant in the human gut microbiome.

Conclusions: Our results uncovered the presence of the MuF toxin family in the temperate phages of Firmicutes. The MuF toxin family is likely to play an important role in the ecology of the human microbiota where pathogens and commensal species belonging to the Firmicutes are abundant. We propose that MuF toxins could be delivered by phages into host bacteria and either influence the lysogeny decision or serve as bacterial weapons by inhibiting the growth of competing bacteria.

Keywords: Bacterial genomics; Bacterial toxins; Phages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacteria / virology
  • Bacterial Toxins / analysis*
  • Bacteriophages / metabolism*
  • Exotoxins / analysis*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • Humans
  • Prophages / metabolism


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Exotoxins