Retronphage phi R73: an E. coli phage that contains a retroelement and integrates into a tRNA gene

Science  17 May 1991:
Vol. 252, Issue 5008, pp. 969-971
DOI: 10.1126/science.1709758


Some strains of Escherichia coli contain retroelements (retrons) that encode genes for reverse transcriptase and branched, multicopy, single-stranded DNA (msDNA) linked to RNA. However, the origin of retrons is unknown. A P4-like cryptic prophage was found that contains a retroelement (retron Ec73) for msDNA-Ec73 in an E. coli clinical strain. The entire genome of this prophage, named phi R73, is 12.7 kilobase pairs and is flanked by 29-base pair direct repeats derived from the 3' end of the selenocystyl transfer RNA gene (selC). P2 bacteriophage caused excision of the phi R73 prophage and acted as a helper to package phi R73 DNA into an infectious virion. The newly formed phi R73 closely resembled P4 as a virion and in its lytic growth. Retronphage phi R73 lysogenized a new host strain, reintegrating its genome into the selC gene of the host chromosome and enabling the newly formed lysogens to produce msDNA-Ec73. Hence, retron Ec73 can be transferred intercellularly as part of the genome of a helper-dependent retronphage.