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Summary

The predominant morphotype of mycobacteriophage virions has a DNA-containing capsid attached to a long flexible non-contractile tail, features characteristic of the Siphoviridae. Within these phage genomes the tape measure protein (tmp) gene can be readily identified due to the well-established relationship between the length of the gene and the length of the phage tail – because these phages typically have long tails, the tmp gene is usually the largest gene in the genome. Many of these mycobacteriophage Tmp's contain small motifs with sequence similarity to host proteins. One of these motifs (motif 1) corresponds to the Rpf proteins that have lysozyme activity and function to stimulate growth of dormant bacteria, while the others (motifs 2 and 3) are related to proteins of unknown function, although some of the related proteins of the host are predicted to be involved in cell wall catabolism. We show here that motif 3-containing proteins have peptidoglycan-hydrolysing activity and that while this activity is not required for phage viability, it facilitates efficient infection and DNA injection into stationary phase cells. Tmp's of mycobacteriophages may thus have acquired these motifs in order to avoid a selective disadvantage that results from changes in peptidoglycan in non-growing cells.