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J Bacteriol. 2006 Apr;188(8):3037-51.

Detailed genomic analysis of the Wbeta and gamma phages infecting Bacillus anthracis: implications for evolution of environmental fitness and antibiotic resistance.

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  • 1Laboratory of Bacterial Pathogenesis and Immunology, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10021, USA. schuchr@rockefeller.edu


Phage-mediated lysis has been an essential laboratory tool for rapidly identifying Bacillus anthracis for more than 40 years, relying on the gamma phage derivative of a Bacillus cereus prophage called W. The complete genomic sequences of the temperate W phage, referred to as Wbeta, and its lytic variant gamma were determined and found to encode 53 open reading frames each, spanning 40,864 bp and 37,373 bp, respectively. Direct comparison of the genomes showed that gamma evolved through mutations at key loci controlling host recognition, lysogenic growth, and possibly host phenotypic modification. Included are a cluster of point mutations at the gp14 tail fiber locus of gamma, encoding a protein that, when fused to green fluorescent protein, binds specifically to B. anthracis. A large 2,003-bp deletion was also identified at the gamma lysogeny module, explaining its shift from a temperate to a lytic lifestyle. Finally, evidence of recombination was observed at a dicistronic Wbeta locus, encoding putative bacterial cell surface-modifying proteins, replaced in gamma with a locus, likely obtained from a B. anthracis prophage, encoding demonstrable fosfomycin resistance. Reverse transcriptase PCR analysis confirmed strong induction at the dicistronic Wbeta locus and at four other phage loci in B. anthracis and/or B. cereus lysogens. In all, this study represents the first genomic and functional description of two historically important phages and is part of a broader investigation into contributions of phage to the B. anthracis life cycle. Initial findings suggest that lysogeny of B. anthracis promotes ecological adaptation, rather than virulence, as with other gram-positive pathogens.

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