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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Mar 20;109(12):4544-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1120310109. Epub 2012 Mar 2.

Rapid diversification of coevolving marine Synechococcus and a virus.

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Department of Biology and Marine Biology, Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI 02809, USA.


Marine viruses impose a heavy mortality on their host bacteria, whereas at the same time the degree of viral resistance in marine bacteria appears to be high. Antagonistic coevolution--the reciprocal evolutionary change of interacting species--might reconcile these observations, if it leads to rapid and dynamic levels of viral resistance. Here we demonstrate the potential for extensive antagonistic coevolution between the ecologically important marine cyanobacterium Synechococcus and a lytic virus. In a 6-mo-long replicated chemostat experiment, Synechococcus sp. WH7803 and the virus (RIM8) underwent multiple coevolutionary cycles, leading to the rapid diversification of both host and virus. Over the course of the experiment, we detected between 4 and 13 newly evolved viral phenotypes (differing in host range) and between 4 and 11 newly evolved Synechococcus phenotypes (differing in viral resistance) in each chemostat. Genomic analysis of isolates identified several candidate genes in both the host and virus that might influence their interactions. Notably, none of the viral candidates were tail fiber genes, thought to be the primary determinants of host range in tailed bacteriophages, highlighting the difficulty in generalizing results from bacteriophage infecting γ-Proteobacteria. Finally, we show that pairwise virus-host coevolution may have broader community consequences; coevolution in the chemostat altered the sensitivity of Synechoccocus to a diverse suite of viruses, as well as the virus' ability to infect additional Synechococcus strains. Our results indicate that rapid coevolution may contribute to the generation and maintenance of Synechococcus and virus diversity and thereby influence viral-mediated mortality of these key marine bacteria.

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