A theory of modular evolution for bacteriophages

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1980;354:484-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1980.tb27987.x.


The modular theory of virus evolution has clear experimental support among the temperate bacteriophages of the enteric bacteria. However, there is also similar genetic and DNA heteroduplex evidence for such evolution among other families of bacteriophages: the virulent bacteriophages of the enterics comprise several families: the T-even group, the T3-T7 group (which has many members among different species of bacteria, including bacteria as widely divergent as E. coli and Caulobacter crescentus. It nicely explains the diffusion of very similar homologous bacteriophages into hosts whose own DNAs have diverged very greatly from each other in nucleotide sequence. It also accounts for the rigorous maintenance of regulatory schemes while units of function (including regions coding for proteins) diverge more rapidly. It should also be noted that the considerations that make modular evolution seem advantageous for bacteriophages apply equally well to viruses of higher organisms. Furthermore, the kinds of heteroduplex similarity observed among animal viruses are reminiscent of what is found for bacteriophages. Viruses found in widely divergent hosts show much greater similarity than would be expected; quite possibly animal viruses also evolve as a population of interchangeable modules.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophage lambda / genetics*
  • Bacteriophage lambda / physiology
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genes, Viral*
  • Nucleic Acid Heteroduplexes
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Salmonella Phages / genetics*
  • Salmonella Phages / physiology
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Nucleic Acid Heteroduplexes