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Extremophiles. 2005 Aug;9(4):289-96. Epub 2005 Jun 10.

A diversity of bacteriophage forms and genomes can be isolated from the surface sands of the Sahara Desert.

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Institut de Génétique et Microbiologie, CNRS UMR 8621, Université Paris-Sud, Orsay, France.


The surface sands of the Sahara Desert are exposed to extremes of ultraviolet light irradiation, desiccation and temperature variation. Nonetheless, the presence of bacteria has recently been demonstrated in this environment by cultivation methods and by 16S rDNA analyses from total DNA isolated from surface sands. To discern the presence of bacteriophages in this harsh environment, we searched for extracellular phages and intracellularly located phages present as prophages or within pseudolysogens. Mild sonication of the sand, in different liquid culture media, incubated with and without Mitomycin-C, was followed by differential centrifugation to enrich for dsDNA phages. The resulting preparations, examined by electron microscopy, revealed the presence of virus-like particles with a diversity of morphotypes representative of all three major double-stranded DNA bacteriophage families (Myoviridae, Siphoviridae and Podoviridae). Moreover, pulsed-field gel electrophoresis of DNA, extracted from the enriched bacteriophage preparations, revealed the presence of distinct bands suggesting the presence of putative dsDNA phage genomes ranging in size from 45 kb to 270 kb. Characterization of the bacteriophages present in the surface sands of the Sahara Desert extends the range of environments from which bacteriophages can be isolated, and provides an important point of departure for the study of phages in extreme terrestrial environments.

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