Prophages and bacterial genomics: what have we learned so far?


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Life on the Mississippi

Summary Bacterial genome nucleotide sequences are being completed at a rapid and increasing rate. Integrated virus genomes (prophages) are common in such genomes. Fifty-one of the 82 such genomes published to date carry prophages, and these contain 230 recognizable putative prophages. Prophages can constitute as much as 10–20% of a bacterium's genome and are major contributors to differences between individuals within species. Many of these prophages appear to be defective and are in a state of mutational decay. Prophages, including defective ones, can contribute important biological properties to their bacterial hosts. Therefore, if we are to comprehend bacterial genomes fully, it is essential that we are able to recognize accurately and understand their prophages from nucleotide sequence analysis. Analysis of the evolution of prophages can shed light on the evolution of both bacteriophages and their hosts. Comparison of the Rac prophages in the sequenced genomes of three Escherichia coli strains and the Pnm prophages in two Neisseria meningitidis strains suggests that some prophages can lie in residence for very long times, perhaps millions of years, and that recombination events have occurred between related prophages that reside at different locations in a bacterium's genome. In addition, many genes in defective prophages remain functional, so a significant portion of the temperate bacteriophage gene pool resides in prophages.