Discovering the Molecular Determinants of Phaeobacter inhibens Susceptibility to Phaeobacter Phage MD18

Guillaume Urtecho, Danielle E. Campbell, David M. Hershey, Fatima A. Hussain, Rachel J. Whitaker, George A. O'Toole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacteriophages have immense potential as antibiotic therapies and in genetic engineering. Understanding the mechanisms that bacteriophages implement to infect their hosts will allow researchers to manipulate these systems and adapt them to specific bacterial targets. In this study, we isolated a bacteriophage capable of infecting the marine alphaproteobacterium Phaeobacter inhibens and determined its mechanism of infection. Phaeobacter virus MD18, a novel species of bacteriophage isolated in Woods Hole, MA, exhibits potent lytic ability against P. inhibens and appears to be of the Sipho-viridae morphotype. The genomic sequence of MD18 displayed significant similarity to another siphophage, the recently discovered Roseobacter phage DSS3P8, but genomic and phylogenetic analyses, assessing host range and a search of available metagenomes are all consistent with the conclusion that Phaeobacter phage MD18 is a novel lytic phage. We incubated MD18 with a library of barcoded P. inhibens transposon insertion mutants and identified 22 genes that appear to be required for phage predation of this host. Network analysis of these genes using genomic position, Gene Ontology (GO) term enrichment, and protein associations revealed that these genes are enriched for roles in assembly of a type IV pilus (T4P) and regulators of cellular morphology. Our results suggest that T4P serve as receptors for a novel marine virus that targets P. inhibens. IMPORTANCE Bacteriophages are useful nonantibiotic therapeutics for bacterial infections as well as threats to industries utilizing bacterial agents. This study identified Phaeobacter virus MD18, a phage antagonist of Phaeobacter inhibens, a bacterium with promising use as a probiotic for aquatic farming industries. Genomic analysis suggested that Phaeobacter phage MD18 has evolved to enhance its replication in P. inhibens by adopting favorable tRNA genes as well as through genomic sequence adaptation to resemble host codon usage. Lastly, a high-throughput analysis of P. inhibens transposon insertion mutants identified genes that modulate host susceptibility to phage MD18 and implicated the type IV pilus as the likely receptor recognized for adsorption. This study marks the first characterization of the relationship between P. inhibens and an environmentally sampled phage, which informs our understanding of natural threats to the bacterium and may promote the development of novel phage technologies for genetic manipulation of this host.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2020


  • BarSeq
  • bacteriophage
  • ecology
  • microbial interactions
  • phage genomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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