Bacteriophages occur in high numbers in environmental ecosystems and are thus significant mediators of microbial survival and activities. However, interactions between microbial populations and phages have been largely ignored. Current understanding of the process relies on studies performed with well-fed, laboratory-grown host bacteria. The purpose of the experiments reported here was to determine bacteriophage-host interactions under environmentally relevant conditions of nutrient limitation. These studies have revealed the importance of a phenomenon called pseudolysogeny in the maintenance of viral genetic material for extended periods of time in natural ecosystems. Pseudolysogeny is a form of phage-host cell interaction in which the nucleic acid of the phage resides within its starved host in an unstable, inactive state. It is hypothesized that pseudolysogeny occurs due to the cell's highly starved condition. In such cells, there is insufficient energy available for the phage to initiate genetic expression leading to either a true temperate response or to the lytic response. However, upon nutrient addition, the pseudolysogenic state is resolved, resulting in either the establishment of true lysogeny or the initiation of the lytic production of progeny virions. The pseudolysogenic state may explain the long-term survival of viruses in unfavourable environments in which the infective half-life of their virions is relatively short.


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