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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 Nov;77(21):7730-9. doi: 10.1128/AEM.05531-11. Epub 2011 Sep 16.

Development of phoH as a novel signature gene for assessing marine phage diversity.

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College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, USA.


Phages play a key role in the marine environment by regulating the transfer of energy between trophic levels and influencing global carbon and nutrient cycles. The diversity of marine phage communities remains difficult to characterize because of the lack of a signature gene common to all phages. Recent studies have demonstrated the presence of host-derived auxiliary metabolic genes in phage genomes, such as those belonging to the Pho regulon, which regulates phosphate uptake and metabolism under low-phosphate conditions. Among the completely sequenced phage genomes in GenBank, this study identified Pho regulon genes in nearly 40% of the marine phage genomes, while only 4% of nonmarine phage genomes contained these genes. While several Pho regulon genes were identified, phoH was the most prevalent, appearing in 42 out of 602 completely sequenced phage genomes. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrated that phage phoH sequences formed a cluster distinct from those of their bacterial hosts. PCR primers designed to amplify a region of the phoH gene were used to determine the diversity of phage phoH sequences throughout a depth profile in the Sargasso Sea and at six locations worldwide. phoH was present at all sites examined, and a high diversity of phoH sequences was recovered. Most phoH sequences belonged to clusters without any cultured representatives. Each depth and geographic location had a distinct phoH composition, although most phoH clusters were recovered from multiple sites. Overall, phoH is an effective signature gene for examining phage diversity in the marine environment.

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