Virus Gene Helping Bacteria to Survive in Absence of Essential Gene

A new research led by the team of researchers from Uppsala University, Sweden have found that the bacteriophage which is a virus and infects bacteria also helps bacteria to develop new function by revealing the undiscovered potential of their bacterial host.

This new discovery also has solved the mystery of evolutionary biology i.e. how new function arises which means how an organism develops new function with time.

Bacteriophages are the viruses which are the most abundant organisms on Earth (about 1031). They are infecting and killing approximately 15-30 % of all bacteria in the world’s oceans every day. This new study which is published in Nature Ecology & Evolution analyzed how bacteriophages transmit genes to enable the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli) survive instead of killing bacteria.

“We found a new, unexpected mechanism whereby genes from bacteriophages enable bacteria to use their hidden potential and establish a new function,” says researcher and lead author Jon Jerlström-Hultqvist.

In the laboratory researchers first removed one of the essential genes of bacteria i.e. ilvA. The next step was to find that how bacteriophage gene genes (isolated from Svandammen, “Swan Pond”, in central Uppsala)  is helping bacteria to survive without the essential genes.

During their research, they found that there is a new group of genes encoding enzyme S-adenosyl methionine (SAM) hydrolases whose function is to breakdown SAM which in turn boost up the process of biosynthesis of amino acid I.e. methionine, the precursor of SAM.

One of the enzyme which is necessary for methionine production participates in other side reaction that assists E.coli to survive in absence of ilvA gene.

With this study in mind, researchers concluded that to understand how bacteria functions, exploring normally found functions in bacteria is not enough. The hidden potential of the bacterial cell can be displayed when its metabolic state changes, for example in a bacteriophage infection.

“The new function in this study is that these bacteriophage enzymes have the ability to break down an important cell component (SAM) of the bacterium. When this component breaks down, the bacterial cell resets its metabolism and a new function becomes available. Moreover, it is very important to understand the hidden potential of bacteria and whether it can affect the development of antibiotic resistance and its pathogenicity,” says Professor Andersson, who heads the study.


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