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Abstract

Lambdoid (or Lambda-like) phages are a group of related temperate phages that can infect and other gut bacteria. A key characteristic of these phages is their mosaic genome structure, which served as the basis for the ‘modular genome hypothesis’. Accordingly, lambdoid phages evolve by transferring genomic regions, each of which constitutes a functional unit. Nevertheless, it is unknown which genes are preferentially transferred together and what drives such co-transfer events. Here we aim to characterize genome modularity by studying co-transfer of genes among 95 distantly related lambdoid (pro-)phages. Based on gene content, we observed that the genomes cluster into 12 groups, which are characterized by a highly similar gene content within the groups and highly divergent gene content across groups. Highly similar proteins can occur in genomes of different groups, indicating that they have been transferred. About 26 % of homologous protein clusters in the four known operons (i.e. the early left, early right, immunity and late operon) engage in gene transfer, which affects all operons to a similar extent. We identified pairs of genes that are frequently co-transferred and observed that these pairs tend to be near one another on the genome. We find that frequently co-transferred genes are involved in related functions and highlight interesting examples involving structural proteins, the cI repressor and Cro regulator, proteins interacting with DNA, and membrane-interacting proteins. We conclude that epistatic effects, where the functioning of one protein depends on the presence of another, play an important role in the evolution of the modular structure of these genomes.

Funding
This study was supported by the:
  • Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung (Award PZ00P3_179743)
    • Principle Award Recipient: CarolinC. Wendling
  • Competence Center Environment and Sustainability (ETH) (Award 0-21248-08)
    • Principle Award Recipient: DominikRefardt
  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.
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2022-11-24
2024-02-27
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