Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Viruses can have immune systems: A pirate phage commandeers the immune system of bacteria

Date:
February 27, 2013
Source:
Tufts University
Summary:
A new study reports that a viral predator of the cholera bacteria has stolen the functional immune system of bacteria and is using it against its bacterial host. This provides the first evidence that this type of virus, the bacteriophage, can acquire an adaptive immune system. The study has implications for phage therapy, the use of phages to treat bacterial diseases.

Artist's concept of bacteriophage infecting bacteria.
Credit: iStockphoto

A study published today in the journal Nature reports that a viral predator of the cholera bacteria has stolen the functional immune system of bacteria and is using it against its bacterial host. The study provides the first evidence that this type of virus, the bacteriophage ("phage" for short), can acquire a wholly functional and adaptive immune system.

Related Articles


The phage used the stolen immune system to disable -- and thus overcome -- the cholera bacteria's defense system against phages. Therefore, the phage can kill the cholera bacteria and multiply to produce more phage offspring, which can then kill more cholera bacteria. The study has dramatic implications for phage therapy, which is the use of phages to treat bacterial diseases. Developing phage therapy is particularly important because some bacteria, called superbugs, are resistant to most or all current antibiotics.

Until now, scientists thought phages existed only as primitive particles of DNA or RNA and therefore lacked the sophistication of an adaptive immune system, which is a system that can respond rapidly to a nearly infinite variety of new challenges. Phages are viruses that prey exclusively on bacteria and each phage is parasitically mated to a specific type of bacteria. This study focused on a phage that attacks Vibrio cholerae, the bacterium responsible for cholera epidemics in humans.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Andrew Camilli, Ph.D., of Tufts University School of Medicine led the research team responsible for the surprising discovery.

First author Kimberley D. Seed, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Camilli's lab, was analyzing DNA sequences of phages taken from stool samples from patients with cholera in Bangladesh when she identified genes for a functional immune system previously found only in some bacteria (and most Archaea, a separate domain of single-celled microorganisms).

To verify the findings, the researchers used phage lacking the adaptive immune system to infect a new strain of cholera bacteria that is naturally resistant to the phage. The phage were unable to adapt to and kill the cholera strain. They next infected the same strain of cholera bacteria with phage harboring the immune system, and observed that the phage rapidly adapted and thus gained the ability to kill the cholera bacteria. This work demonstrates that the immune system harbored by the phage is fully functional and adaptive.

"Virtually all bacteria can be infected by phages. About half of the world's known bacteria have this adaptive immune system, called CRISPR/Cas, which is used primarily to provide immunity against phages. Although this immune system was commandeered by the phage, its origin remains unknown because the cholera bacterium itself currently lacks this system. What is really remarkable is that the immune system is being used by the phage to adapt to and overcome the defense systems of the cholera bacteria. Finding a CRISPR/Cas system in a phage shows that there is gene flow between the phage and bacteria even for something as large and complex as the genes for an adaptive immune system," said Seed.

"The study lends credence to the controversial idea that viruses are living creatures, and bolsters the possibility of using phage therapy to treat bacterial infections, especially those that are resistant to antibiotic treatment," said Camilli, professor of Molecular Biology & Microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine and member of the Molecular Microbiology program faculty at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts University.

Camilli's previous research established that phages are highly prevalent in stool samples from patients with cholera, implying that phage therapy is happening naturally and could be made more effective. In addition, a study published by Camilli in 2008 determined that phage therapy works in a mouse model of cholera intestinal infection.

The team is currently working on a study to understand precisely how the phage immune system disables the defense systems of the cholera bacteria. This new knowledge will be important for understanding whether the phage's immune system could overcome newly acquired or evolved phage defense systems of the cholera bacteria, and thus has implications for designing an effective and stable phage therapy to combat cholera.

Additional authors are David W. Lazinski, Ph.D., senior research associate in the Camilli lab at Tufts University School of Medicine, and Stephen B. Calderwood, M.D., Morton N. Swartz, M.D. academy professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and chief, division of infectious disease and vice-chair, department of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under award numbers R01AI55058, R01AI045746, and R01AI058935.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Tufts University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kimberley D. Seed, David W. Lazinski, Stephen B. Calderwood, Andrew Camilli. A bacteriophage encodes its own CRISPR/Cas adaptive response to evade host innate immunity. Nature, 2013; 494 (7438): 489 DOI: 10.1038/nature11927

Cite This Page:

Tufts University. "Viruses can have immune systems: A pirate phage commandeers the immune system of bacteria." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 February 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130227134334.htm>.
Tufts University. (2013, February 27). Viruses can have immune systems: A pirate phage commandeers the immune system of bacteria. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130227134334.htm
Tufts University. "Viruses can have immune systems: A pirate phage commandeers the immune system of bacteria." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130227134334.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

UN: Up to One Million Facing Hunger in Ebola-Hit Countries

UN: Up to One Million Facing Hunger in Ebola-Hit Countries

AFP (Dec. 17, 2014) Border closures, quarantines and crop losses in West African nations battling the Ebola virus could lead to as many as one million people going hungry, UN food agencies said on Wednesday. Duration: 00:52 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Can fat disappear into thin air? New research finds that during weight loss, over 80 percent of a person's fat molecules escape through the lungs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Your Boss Should Let You Sleep In

Why Your Boss Should Let You Sleep In

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) According to research out of the University of Pennsylvania, waking up for work is the biggest factor that causes Americans to lose sleep. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Flu Outbreak Closing Schools in Ohio

Flu Outbreak Closing Schools in Ohio

AP (Dec. 17, 2014) A wave of flu illnesses has forced some Ohio schools to shut down over the past week. State officials confirmed one pediatric flu-related death, a 15-year-old girl in southern Ohio. (Dec. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins