Molecular and Evolutionary Determinants of Bacteriophage Host Range

Trends Microbiol. 2019 Jan;27(1):51-63. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2018.08.006. Epub 2018 Sep 1.


The host range of a bacteriophage is the taxonomic diversity of hosts it can successfully infect. Host range, one of the central traits to understand in phages, is determined by a range of molecular interactions between phage and host throughout the infection cycle. While many well studied model phages seem to exhibit a narrow host range, recent ecological and metagenomics studies indicate that phages may have specificities that range from narrow to broad. There is a growing body of studies on the molecular mechanisms that enable phages to infect multiple hosts. These mechanisms, and their evolution, are of considerable importance to understanding phage ecology and the various clinical, industrial, and biotechnological applications of phage. Here we review knowledge of the molecular mechanisms that determine host range, provide a framework defining broad host range in an evolutionary context, and highlight areas for additional research.

Keywords: bacteriophage; broad-host-range phages; phage therapy; specificity; virus–host interaction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / virology*
  • Bacteriophages / genetics
  • Bacteriophages / growth & development*
  • Host Specificity*