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Genomes of the obligate intracellular alpha proteobacterium Wolbachia pipientis often encode prophage-like regions, and in a few cases, purified particles have been recovered. Because the structure of a conserved WO phage genome has been difficult to establish, we examined paired terminase and portal genes in Wolbachia phages and prophages, relative to those encoded by the gene transfer agent RcGTA from the free-living alpha proteobacterium Rhodobacter capsulatus. Terminase and portal proteins from Wolbachia have higher similarity to orthologs encoded by RcGTA than to orthologs encoded by bacteriophage lambda. In lambdoid phages, these proteins play key roles in assembly of mature phage particles, while in less well-studied gene transfer agents, terminase and portal proteins package random fragments of bacterial DNA, which could confound elucidation of WO phage genomes. In WO phages and prophages, terminase genes followed by a short gpW gene may be separated from the downstream portal gene by open-reading frames encoding a GH_25 hydrolase/muramidase, a PD-(D/E)XK nuclease, a hypothetical protein and/or a RelE/ParE toxin-antitoxin module. These aspects of gene organization, coupled with evidence for a low, non-inducible yield of WO phages, and the small size of WO phage particles described in the literature raise the possibility that Wolbachia prophage regions participate in processes that extend beyond conventional bacteriophage lysogeny and lytic replication. These intervening genes, and their possible relation to functions associated with GTAs, may contribute to variability among WO phage genomes recovered from physical particles and impact the ability of WO phages to act as transducing agents. © 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


Ann M Fallon. Muramidase, nuclease, or hypothetical protein genes intervene between paired genes encoding DNA packaging terminase and portal proteins in Wolbachia phages and prophages. Virus genes. 2022 Aug;58(4):327-349

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PMID: 35538383

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