Comparative genomics of Bacillus thuringiensis phage 0305φ8-36: Defining patterns of descent in a novel ancient phage lineage

Stephen C. Hardies, Julie A. Thomas, Philip Serwer

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24 Scopus citations


Background. The recently sequenced 218 kb genome of morphologically atypical Bacillus thuringiensis phage 0305φ8-36 exhibited only limited detectable homology to known bacteriophages. The only known relative of this phage is a string of phage-like genes called BtI1 in the chromosome of B. thuringiensis israelensis. The high degree of divergence and novelty of phage genomes pose challenges in how to describe the phage from its genomic sequences. Results. Phage 0305φ8-36 and BtI1 are estimated to have diverged 2.0 - 2.5 billion years ago. Positionally biased Blast searches aligned 30 homologous structure or morphogenesis genes between 0305φ8-36 and BtI1 that have maintained the same gene order. Functional clustering of the genes helped identify additional gene functions. A conserved long tape measure gene indicates that a long tail is an evolutionarily stable property of this phage lineage. An unusual form of the tail chaperonin system split to two genes was characterized, as was a hyperplastic homologue of the T4gp27 hub gene. Within this region some segments were best described as encoding a conservative array of structure domains fused with a variable component of exchangeable domains. Other segments were best described as multigene units engaged in modular horizontal exchange. The non-structure genes of 0305φ8-36 appear to include the remnants of two replicative systems leading to the hypothesis that the genome plan was created by fusion of two ancestral viruses. The case for a member of the RNAi RNA-directed RNA polymerase family residing in 0305φ8-36 was strengthened by extending the hidden Markov model of this family. Finally, it was noted that prospective transcriptional promoters were distributed in a gradient of small to large transcripts starting from a fixed end of the genome. Conclusion. Genomic organization at a level higher than individual gene sequence comparison can be analyzed to aid in understanding large phage genomes. Methods of analysis include 1) applying a time scale, 2) augmenting blast scores with positional information, 3) categorizing genomic rearrangements into one of several processes with characteristic rates and outcomes, and 4) correlating apparent transcript sizes with genomic position, gene content, and promoter motifs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number97
JournalVirology Journal
StatePublished - 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Virology


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