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PLoS Genet. 2016 Feb 12;12(2):e1005861. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1005861. eCollection 2016 Feb.

Carriage of λ Latent Virus Is Costly for Its Bacterial Host due to Frequent Reactivation in Monoxenic Mouse Intestine.

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Micalis Institute, INRA, AgroParisTech, Université Paris-Saclay, Jouy-en-Josas, France.
MaIAGE, INRA, Université Paris-Saclay, Jouy-en-Josas, France.


Temperate phages, the bacterial viruses able to enter in a dormant prophage state in bacterial genomes, are present in the majority of bacterial strains for which the genome sequence is available. Although these prophages are generally considered to increase their hosts' fitness by bringing beneficial genes, studies demonstrating such effects in ecologically relevant environments are relatively limited to few bacterial species. Here, we investigated the impact of prophage carriage in the gastrointestinal tract of monoxenic mice. Combined with mathematical modelling, these experimental results provided a quantitative estimation of key parameters governing phage-bacteria interactions within this model ecosystem. We used wild-type and mutant strains of the best known host/phage pair, Escherichia coli and phage λ. Unexpectedly, λ prophage caused a significant fitness cost for its carrier, due to an induction rate 50-fold higher than in vitro, with 1 to 2% of the prophage being induced. However, when prophage carriers were in competition with isogenic phage susceptible bacteria, the prophage indirectly benefited its carrier by killing competitors: infection of susceptible bacteria led to phage lytic development in about 80% of cases. The remaining infected bacteria were lysogenized, resulting overall in the rapid lysogenization of the susceptible lineage. Moreover, our setup enabled to demonstrate that rare events of phage gene capture by homologous recombination occurred in the intestine of monoxenic mice. To our knowledge, this study constitutes the first quantitative characterization of temperate phage-bacteria interactions in a simplified gut environment. The high prophage induction rate detected reveals DNA damage-mediated SOS response in monoxenic mouse intestine. We propose that the mammalian gut, the most densely populated bacterial ecosystem on earth, might foster bacterial evolution through high temperate phage activity.

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