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J Mol Biol. 1998 Sep 25;282(3):543-56.

Genome plasticity in the distal tail fiber locus of the T-even bacteriophage: recombination between conserved motifs swaps adhesin specificity.

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Laboratoire de Microbiologie et Génétique Moléculaire, CNRS, 118 Route de Narbonne, Toulouse Cedex, UPR 9007, France.


The adsorption specificity of the T-even phages is determined by the protein sequence near the tip of the long tail fibers. These adhesin sequences are highly variable in both their sequence and specificity for bacterial receptors. The tail fiber adhesin domains are located in different genes in closely related phages of the T-even type. In phage T4, the adhesin sequence is encoded by the C-terminal domain of the large tail fiber gene (gene 37), but in T2, the adhesin is a separate gene product (gene 38) that binds to the tip of T2 tail fibers. Analysis of phage T6 and Ac3 sequences reveals additional variant forms of this locus. The tail fiber host specificity determinants can be exchanged, although the different loci have only limited homology. Chimeric fibers can be created by crossovers either between small homologies within the structural part of the fiber gene or in conserved motifs of the adhesin domain. For example, the T2 adhesin determinants are flanked by G-rich DNA motifs and exchanges involving these sequences can replace the specificity determinants. These features of the distal tail fiber loci genetically link their different forms and can mediate acquisition of diverse host range determinants, including those that allow it to cross species boundaries and infect taxonomically distant hosts.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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