Abstract

Temperate bacterial viruses (phages) may enter a symbiosis with their host cell, forming a unit called a lysogen. Infection and viral replication are disassociated in lysogens until an induction event such as DNA damage occurs, triggering viral-mediated lysis. The lysogen–lytic viral reproduction switch is central to viral ecology, with diverse ecosystem impacts. It has been argued that lysogeny is favoured in phages at low host densities. This paradigm is based on the fraction of chemically inducible cells (FCIC) lysogeny proxy determined using DNA-damaging mitomycin C inductions. Contrary to the established paradigm, a survey of 39 inductions publications found FCIC to be highly variable and pervasively insensitive to bacterial host density at global, within-environment and within-study levels. Attempts to determine the source(s) of variability highlighted the inherent complications in using the FCIC proxy in mixed communities, including dissociation between rates of lysogeny and FCIC values. Ultimately, FCIC studies do not provide robust measures of lysogeny or consistent evidence of either positive or negative host density dependence to the lytic–lysogenic switch. Other metrics are therefore needed to understand the drivers of the lytic–lysogenic decision in viral communities and to test models of the host density-dependent viral lytic–lysogenic switch.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank R. Young for microbiological insight and guidance. Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Integrated Microbial Biodiversity Program Fellowship Award 141679, National Science Foundation grants OISE-1243541 and DEB-1046413, a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Investigator Award GBMF-3781 (to F.R.) and National Science Foundation grants OCE-1538567 (to L.W.K.), IOS-1456301 and DEB-1555854 (to M.B.) funded this work. The authors thank G. Gueiros and K. Furby for critiquing the manuscript.

Author information

Author notes

    • Ben Knowles

    Present address: Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University, 71 Dudley Road, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, USA.

Affiliations

  1. Department of Biology, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, California 92182, USA

    • Ben Knowles
    • , Lance Boling
    • , Ana Cobián-Güemes
    • , Juris Grasis
    • , Andreas F. Haas
    • , Linda Wegley Kelly
    • , Lauren Paul
    • , Gregory Peters
    • , Nate Robinett
    • , Anca Segall
    • , Cynthia Silveira
    •  & Forest Rohwer
  2. Department of Mathematics and Statistics, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, California 92182, USA

    • Barbara Bailey
    • , Ben Felts
    • , Antoni Luque
    •  & Jim Nulton
  3. College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, 140 Seventh Avenue South, St Petersburg, Florida 33701, USA

    • Mya Breitbart
  4. Department of Botany, University of British Columbia, 3529-6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada

    • Javier del Campo
  5. Computational Science Research Center, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, California 92182, USA

    • Rob Edwards
    •  & Antoni Luque
  6. Department of Computer Science, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, California 92182, USA

    • Rob Edwards
  7. Viral Information Institute, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, California 92182, USA

    • Rob Edwards
    • , Antoni Luque
    • , Anca Segall
    •  & Forest Rohwer
  8. Department of Mechanical Engineering, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, California 92182, USA

    • Parag Katira
  9. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, 950 Gilman Drive, California 92903, USA

    • Stuart Sandin
  10. Rainbow Rock, Ocean View, Hawaii 96737, USA

    • Merry Youle

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Contributions

B.K. and F.R. designed, conducted and wrote up the study. B.B., L.B., M.B., A.C.-G., J.d.C., R.E., B.F., J.G., A.H., P.K., L.W.K., A.L., J.N., G.P., L.P., N.R., S.S., A.S., C.S. and M.Y. contributed data, analysis and manuscript preparation.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Ben Knowles or Forest Rohwer.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nmicrobiol.2017.64

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