Research Article

Genome hypermobility by lateral transduction

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Science  12 Oct 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6411, pp. 207-212
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat5867

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Pathologizing Staphylococcus, fast

Bacteriophages are the main vehicle for gene swapping in bacteria, notoriously of pathogenicity islands and antibiotic resistance genes. Chen et al. noticed that the Staphylococcus aureus prophages do not excise from their host's genome until very late in their life cycles (see the Perspective by Davidson). Thus, the phage DNA is amplified while embedded in the bacterial chromosome. The resulting concatemers are processively packed into virus capsules while still integrated in the host chromosome. Each virion is only set loose when the capsule has reached physical capacity—a process called “headful” packaging. In situ amplification maximizes viral replication, and the headful mechanism means adjacent bacterial-host DNA also gets grabbed to fill the capsule. This process ensures that host genes are transmitted along with the phage.

Science, this issue p. 207; see also p. 152


Genetic transduction is a major evolutionary force that underlies bacterial adaptation. Here we report that the temperate bacteriophages of Staphylococcus aureus engage in a distinct form of transduction we term lateral transduction. Staphylococcal prophages do not follow the previously described excision-replication-packaging pathway but instead excise late in their lytic program. Here, DNA packaging initiates in situ from integrated prophages, and large metameric spans including several hundred kilobases of the S. aureus genome are packaged in phage heads at very high frequency. In situ replication before DNA packaging creates multiple prophage genomes so that lateral-transducing particles form during normal phage maturation, transforming parts of the S. aureus chromosome into hypermobile regions of gene transfer.

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