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J Bacteriol. 1999 Jun;181(12):3618-25.

A high incidence of prophage carriage among natural isolates of Streptococcus pneumoniae.

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  • 1The Rockefeller University, New York, New York, USA.


The majority (591 of 791, or 76%) of Streptococcus pneumoniae clinical isolates examined showed the presence of two or more chromosomal SmaI fragments that hybridized with the lytA-specific DNA probe. Only one of these fragments, frequently having an approximate molecular size of 90 kb, was shown to carry the genetic determinant of the pneumococcal autolysin (N-acetylmuramic acid-L-alanine amidase). Strains carrying multiple copies of lytA homologues included both antibiotic-susceptible and -resistant isolates as well as a number of different serotypes and strains recovered from geographic sites on three continents. Mitomycin C treatment of strains carrying several lytA-hybridizing fragments caused the appearance of extrachromosomal DNA hybridizing to the lytA gene, followed by lysis of the bacteria. Such lysates contained phage particles detectable by electron microscopy. The findings suggest that the lytA-hybridizing fragments in excess of the host lytA represent components of pneumococcal bacteriophages. The high proportion of clinical isolates carrying multiple copies of lytA indicates the widespread occurrence of lysogeny, which may contribute to genetic variation in natural populations of pneumococci.

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