Scientists at The Hebrew University’s Institute of Medical Research Israel-Canada have made the unexpected observation that normally phage-resistant bacteria (R cells) can occasionally be invaded by phage when the R cells are cultured together with infected phage-sensitive bacteria (S cells). They termed this phenomenon “acquisition of sensitivity” (ASEN) and showed that it is mediated by the R cells transiently gaining phage attachment molecules from neighboring S cells. They further provided evidence that this molecular exchange is driven by microvesicles (MVs) containing phage attachment molecules that are released from infected S cells. The researchers suggest that this raises the possibility that such a mechanism facilitates transduction events among species by a plethora of phages, even by those having a narrow host range. They note that such multispecies transductions could prime horizontal gene transfer and, consequently, bacterial genome evolution. Phage invasion into R cells could have a major impact on the transfer of antibiotic resistance and virulence genes among bacteria. The scientists write that this possibility should be carefully considered when employing phage therapy, as phage infection of a given species may result in gene transmission into neighboring bacteria resistant to the phage. This research was published in the January 12, 2017 issue of Cell. The article is titled “Acquisition of Phage Sensitivity by Bacteria through Exchange of Phage Receptors.” Philip Askenase, M.D., Professor of Medicine & Pathology at the Yale University School of Medicine, made the following comment on the significance of this work: "Such a fundamental event in such a basic system by MVs speaks to their universality and the fundamental nature of their transfers." Dr. Askenase was not involved in the research.
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