High-Throughput Mapping of Phage Resistance Landscape of Bacteria Offers Avenue to Illuminating “Dark Matter” of Microorganism-Phage Interactions Throughout the Biological World

Scientists are continually searching for new and improved ways to deal with bacteria, be it to eliminate disease-causing strains or to modify potentially beneficial strains. And despite the numerous clever drugs and genetic engineering tools humans have invented for these tasks, those approaches can seem clumsy when compared to the finely tuned attacks waged by phages--the viruses that infect bacteria. Phages, like other parasites, are continually evolving ways to target and exploit their specific host bacterial strain, and in turn, the bacteria 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. To gain insight into these defensive strategies, a team led by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has just developed an efficient and inexpensive new method. As reported online on October 13, 2020 in PLOS Biology (https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3000877), the team showed that a combination of three 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 open-access article is titled “High-Throughput Mapping of the Phage Resistance Landscape in E. coli.” "Despite nearly a century of molecular work, the underlying mechanisms of phage-host interactions are only known for a few pairs, where the host is a well-studied model organism that can be cultured in a lab," said corresponding author Vivek Mutalik, PhD, a research scientist in Berkeley Lab's Environmental Genomics and Systems Biology (EGSB) Division.
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