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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007 Nov;73(21):6730-9. Epub 2007 Aug 31.

Large variabilities in host strain susceptibility and phage host range govern interactions between lytic marine phages and their Flavobacterium hosts.

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Department of Natural Sciences, Kalmar University, S-391 82 Kalmar, Sweden.


Phages are a main mortality factor for marine bacterioplankton and are thought to regulate bacterial community composition through host-specific infection and lysis. In the present study we demonstrate for a marine phage-host assemblage that interactions are complex and that specificity and efficiency of infection and lysis are highly variable among phages infectious to strains of the same bacterial species. Twenty-three Bacteroidetes strains and 46 phages from Swedish and Danish coastal waters were analyzed. Based on genotypic and phenotypic analyses, 21 of the isolates could be considered strains of Cellulophaga baltica (Flavobacteriaceae). Nevertheless, all bacterial strains showed unique phage susceptibility patterns and differed by up to 6 orders of magnitude in sensitivity to the same titer of phage. The isolated phages showed pronounced variations in genome size (8 to >242 kb) and host range (infecting 1 to 20 bacterial strains). Our data indicate that marine bacterioplankton are susceptible to multiple co-occurring phages and that sensitivity towards phage infection is strain specific and exists as a continuum between highly sensitive and resistant, implying an extremely complex web of phage-host interactions. Hence, effects of phages on bacterioplankton community composition and dynamics may go undetected in studies where strain identity is not resolvable, i.e., in studies based on the phylogenetic resolution provided by 16S rRNA gene or internal transcribed spacer sequences.

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