Environment-specific virocell metabolic reprogramming

ISME J. 2024 Mar 29:wrae055. doi: 10.1093/ismejo/wrae055. Online ahead of print.


Viruses impact microbial systems through killing hosts, horizontal gene transfer, and altering cellular metabolism, consequently impacting nutrient cycles. A virus-infected cell, a "virocell", is distinct from its uninfected sister cell as the virus commandeers cellular machinery to produce viruses rather than replicate cells. Problematically, virocell responses to the nutrient-limited conditions that abound in nature are poorly understood. Here we used a systems biology approach to investigate virocell metabolic reprogramming under nutrient limitation. Using transcriptomics, proteomics, lipidomics, and endo- and exo-metabolomics, we assessed how low phosphate (low-P) conditions impacted virocells of a marine Pseudoalteromonas host when independently infected by two unrelated phages (HP1 and HS2). With the combined stresses of infection and nutrient limitation, a set of nested responses were observed. First, low-P imposed common cellular responses on all cells (virocells and uninfected cells), including activating the canonical P-stress response, and decreasing transcription, translation, and extracellular organic matter consumption. Second, low-P imposed infection-specific responses (for both virocells), including enhancing nitrogen assimilation and fatty acid degradation, and decreasing extracellular lipid relative abundance. Third, low-P suggested virocell-specific strategies. Specifically, HS2-virocells regulated gene expression by increasing transcription and ribosomal protein production, whereas HP1-virocells accumulated host proteins, decreased extracellular peptide relative abundance, and invested in broader energy and resource acquisition. These results suggest that although environmental conditions shape metabolism in common ways regardless of infection, virocell-specific strategies exist to support viral replication during nutrient limitation, and a framework now exists for identifying metabolic strategies of nutrient-limited virocells in nature.

Keywords: bacteria; ecology; marine; metabolic reprogramming; multi-omics; nutrient-limitation; virocell; virus.