Viruses that infect bacteria, or phages, are continually evolving ways to target and exploit their specific hosts. Their bacterial hosts, in turn, are continually evolving means to evade the phages. These perpetual battles for survival yield incredibly diverse molecular arsenals that researchers are itching to study, yet doing so can be tedious and labor-intensive.
A team led by Berkeley Lab scientists has developed an efficient and inexpensive new method to gain insight into these defensive strategies. They reported in PLOS Biology that a combination of three recently developed techniques can reveal which bacterial receptors phages exploit to infect the cell, as well as what cellular mechanisms the bacteria use to respond to a phage infection.
The three-pronged approach—called barcoded loss-of-function and gain-of-function libraries—uses the established technique of creating gene deletions and also increasing gene expression to identify which genes the bacteria use to evade the phages. This information also tells the scientists which receptors the phages are targeting without having to analyze the phages’ genomes.
The work was led by Vivek Mutalik, a research scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Genomics and Systems Biology (EGSB) Division, and fellow EGSB scientists Adam Arkin and Adam Deutschbauer, in collaboration with researchers at UC Berkeley and Evergreen State College. The research was funded by the Microbiology program of the Innovative Genomics Institute and by ENIGMA, a Scientific Focus Area program led by Berkeley Lab.
Read more in the Berkeley Lab News Center.