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Science. 2009 Jan 2;323(5910):139-41. doi: 10.1126/science.1164783.

Phage-mediated intergeneric transfer of toxin genes.

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Kimmel Center for Biology and Medicine, Skirball Institute for Biomolecular Medicine, New York University Medical Center, New York, NY, 10016, USA.


Because bacteriophages generally parasitize only closely related bacteria, it is assumed that phage-mediated genetic exchange occurs primarily within species. Here we report that staphylococcal pathogenenicity islands, containing superantigen genes, and other mobile elements transferred to Listeria monocytogenes at the same high frequencies as they transfer within Staphylococcus aureus. Several staphylococcal phages transduced L. monocytogenes but could not form plaques. In an experiment modeling phage therapy for bovine mastitis, we observed pathogenicity island transfer between S. aureus and L. monocytogenes in raw milk. Thus, phages may participate in a far more expansive network of genetic information exchange among bacteria of different species than originally thought, with important implications for the evolution of human pathogens.

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