- July 22, 2023
- Posted by: OptimizeIAS Team
- Category: DPN Topics
Subject :Science and technology
- Many biologists believe there is, at least for one specific type of virus — namely, bacteriophages, or viruses that infect bacteria, there is reason to celebrate about virus.
- When the DNA of these viruses is captured by a cell, it may contain instructions that enable that cell to perform new tricks.
- Bacteriophages, or phages for short, keep bacterial populations in check, both on land and at sea. They kill up to 40 per cent of the oceans’ bacteria every day, helping control bacterial blooms and redistribution of organic matter.
- Their ability to selectively kill bacteria also has medical doctors excited. Natural and engineered phages have been successfully used to treat bacterial infections that do not respond to antibiotics. This process, known as phage therapy, could help fight antibiotic resistance.
- Recent research points to another important function of phages: They may be nature’s ultimate genetic tinkerers, crafting novel genes that cells can retool to gain new functions.
- Phages are the most abundant life form on the planet, with a nonillion — that’s a 1 with 31 zeroes after it — of them floating around the world at any moment. Like all viruses, phages also have high replication and mutation rates, meaning they form many variants with different characteristics each time they reproduce.
- Most phages have a rigid shell called a capsid that is filled with their genetic material. In many cases, the shell has more space than the phage needs to store the DNA essential for its replication. This means that phages have room to carry extra genetic baggage: Genes that are not actually necessary for the phage’s survival that it can modify at will.
How bacteria retooled a viral switch
- Phages come in two main flavours: temperate and virulent. Virulent phages, like many other viruses, operate on an invade-replicate-kill programme. They enter the cell, hijack its components, make copies of themselves and burst out.
- Temperate phages, on the other hand, play the long game. They fuse their DNA with the cell’s and may lay dormant for years until something triggers their activation. Then they revert to virulent behaviour: replicate and burst out.
- Many temperate phages use DNA damage as their trigger. It’s sort of a “Houston, we have a problem” signal. If the cell’s DNA is being damaged, that means the DNA of the resident phage is likely to go next, so the phage wisely decides to jump ship. The genes that direct phages to replicate and burst out are turned off unless DNA damage is detected.
- Bacterial cells are also interested in knowing if their DNA is getting busted. If it is, they activate a set of genes that attempt to repair the DNA. This is known as the bacterial SOS response because, if it fails, the cell is toast. Bacteria orchestrate the SOS response using a switch-like protein that responds to DNA damage: It turns on if there is damage and stays off if there isn’t.
Who invented the switch, bacteria or viruses?
- Previous research and work by other researchers indicates that phages got there first.
- In recent report, we discovered that the SOS response of Bacteroidetes, a group of bacteria that comprise up to a half of the bacteria living in your gut, is under control of a phage switch that was retooled to implement the bacteria’s own complex genetic programmes.
- This suggests that bacterial SOS switches are in fact phage switches that got retooled eons ago.
- Beautiful detective work has shown that a bacterial gene needed for cell division also arose through “domestication” of a phage toxin gene.
- And many bacterial attack systems, such as toxins and the genetic guns used to inject them into cells, as well as the camouflage they use to evade the immune system, are known or suspected to have phage origins.