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Mol Biol Evol. 2004 Jan;21(1):1-13. Epub 2003 Aug 29.

Site-specific recombination links the evolution of P2-like coliphages and pathogenic enterobacteria.

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Department of Genetics, University of Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden.


The genome of the tailed temperate coliphage P2 (Myoviridae) contains some genes that probably are horizontally transferred additions to the genome. One of these genes, the Z/fun gene, was recently found intact in the genome of Neisseria meningitidis. We have investigated the presence of P2-like phages, and the genetic variation at the position corresponding to the phage P2 Z/fun locus, in the Escherichia coli reference collection (ECOR). P2-like phages are common in E. coli since they are present in about 30% of the ECOR strains. Hybridizations and PCR amplifications indicate that the overall variation among these phages is small. Amplification of the region corresponding to the phage P2 Z/fun locus in 11 prophages revealed that this is a multivariable locus. Sequencing of the region resulted in 10 completely different sequences but with a similar high AT-content as the Z/fun gene. All sequences contained at least one open reading frame with good transcription and translation signals. All sequences were also surrounded by a highly similar, previously undiscovered, inverted repeat (IR). We also found this IR in genetically unstable regions in pathogenic enterobacteria. This demonstrates that P2-like phages are important factors in the evolution of bacteria, not only because they carry a diversity of lysogenic conversion genes but also because they can act as vectors for single genes. The genes found between the IRs have unknown functions, and only a few clearly similar genes have been found in other bacteria.

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