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Durham University

Department of Biosciences


Publication details for Dr Tim R Blower

Blower, T.R., Chai, R., Przybilski, R., Chindhy, S., Fang, X., Kidman, S.E., Tan, H., Luisi, B.F., Fineran, P.C. & Salmond, G.P.C. (2017). Evolution of Pectobacterium bacteriophage ΦM1 to escape two bifunctional Type III toxin-antitoxin and abortive infection systems through mutations in a single viral gene. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 83(8): e03229-16.

Author(s) from Durham


Some bacteria, when infected by their viral parasites (bacteriophages), undergo a suicidal response that also terminates productive viral replication (abortive infection; Abi). This response can be viewed as an altruistic act protecting the uninfected bacterial clonal population. Abortive infection can occur through the action of Type III protein-RNA toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems, such as ToxINPa from the phytopathogen, Pectobacterium atrosepticum. Rare spontaneous mutants evolved in the generalized transducing phage, ΦM1, which escaped ToxINPa-mediated abortive infection in P. atrosepticum. ΦM1 is a member of the Podoviridae and member of the “KMV-like viruses”, a subset of the T7 supergroup. Genomic sequencing of ΦM1 escape mutants revealed single-base changes which clustered in a single open reading frame. The “escape” gene product, M1-23, was highly toxic to the host bacterium when over-expressed, but mutations in M1-23 that enabled an escape phenotype caused M1-23 to be less toxic. M1-23 is encoded within the DNA metabolism modular section of the phage genome, and when it was over-expressed, it co-purified with the host nucleotide excision repair protein, UvrA. While the M1-23 protein interacted with UvrA in co-immunoprecipitation assays, a UvrA mutant strain still aborted ΦM1, suggesting that the interaction is not critical for the Type III TA Abi activity. Additionally, ΦM1 escaped a heterologous Type III TA system (TenpINPl) from Photorhabdus luminescens (reconstituted in P. atrosepticum) through mutations in the same protein, M1-23. The mechanistic action of M1-23 is currently unknown but further analysis of this protein could provide insights into the mode of activation of both systems.