Staphylococcus aureus is an important human and livestock pathogen. An S. aureus phage (φAvβ) inserted into the chromosome at the beta toxin gene (beta-converting phage) is present in approx. 90 % of human strains and contributes to human-specific innate immune evasion. Comparative genomic analysis of S. aureus isolates from infected poultry has revealed an avian-specific subfamily of beta-converting phages represented by multiple variants with distinct integrase gene alleles. To investigate the role of the avian beta-converting phages in host-pathogen interactions, a φAvβ-deficient strain with non-functional beta-toxinand a φAvβ-deficient strain with restored beta-toxin were constructed by allele replacement in an avian pathogenic S. aureus strain. Compared to the wild type, both φAvβ-deficient strains have reduced net extracellular growth in vitro in chicken bone-marrow derived macrophages. Further investigation using GFP-tagged bacteria has revealed that both φAvβ-deficient strains show reduced initial phagocytosis and intracellular survival compared to the wild type. Absence of φAvβ is also associated with decreased killing of the chicken bone-marrow derived macrophages. We are currently investigating the mechanism underlying this phenotype using deletion mutants of the candidate phage effector genes. Ongoing work also involves using RNAseq to investigate differential host transcriptional response of the macrophages to S. aureus in presence/absence ofφAvβ. Overall, these data will contribute new information relating to the evolution of avian S. aureus and mechanisms of bacterial host-adaptation.

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