Phage Transfer: A New Player Turns Up in Cholera Infection

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Science  28 Jun 1996:
Vol. 272, Issue 5270, pp. 1869-1870
DOI: 10.1126/science.272.5270.1869


Many cholera bacteria are perfectly benign, but some strains have become deadly pathogens by acquiring packages of genes from elsewhere in their environment. New research on page 1910. reveals an agent that may be responsible for this Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation: a bacteriophage, a virus that infects the cholera bacterium itself. This phage carries the genes that encode the toxin that causes the disease's life-threatening diarrhea. The new discovery raises questions about the development of live cholera vaccines and suggests a transfer mechanism for other bacterial virulence genes.