Prediction of Prophages and Their Host Ranges in Pathogenic and Commensal Neisseria Species

Giulia Orazi, Alan J. Collins, Rachel J. Whitaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The genus Neisseria includes two pathogenic species, N. gonorrhoeae and N. meningitidis, and numerous commensal species. Neisseria species frequently exchange DNA with one another, primarily via transformation and homologous recombination and via multiple types of mobile genetic elements (MGEs). Few Neisseria bacteriophages (phages) have been identified, and their impact on bacterial physiology is poorly understood. Furthermore, little is known about the range of species that Neisseria phages can infect. In this study, we used three virus prediction tools to scan 248 genomes of 21 different Neisseria species and identified 1,302 unique predicted prophages. Using comparative genomics, we found that many predictions are dissimilar from prophages and other MGEs previously described to infect Neisseria species. We also identified similar predicted prophages in genomes of different Neisseria species. Additionally, we examined CRISPR-Cas targeting of each Neisseria genome and predicted prophage. While CRISPR targeting of chromosomal DNA appears to be common among several Neisseria species, we found that 20% of the prophages we predicted are targeted significantly more than the rest of the bacterial genome in which they were identified (i.e., backbone). Furthermore, many predicted prophages are targeted by CRISPR spacers encoded by other species. We then used these results to infer additional host species of known Neisseria prophages and predictions that are highly targeted relative to the backbone. Together, our results suggest that we have identified novel Neisseria prophages, several of which may infect multiple Neisseria species. These findings have important implications for understanding horizontal gene transfer between members of this genus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Neisseria
  • bacteriophages
  • comparative genomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Microbiology
  • Modeling and Simulation


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