Inference of the life cycle of environmental phages from genomic signature distances to their hosts

The environmental impact of uncultured phages is shaped by their preferred life cycle (lytic or lysogenic). However, our ability to predict it is very limited. We aimed to discriminate between lytic and lysogenic phages by comparing the similarity of their genomic signatures to those of their hosts, reflecting their co-evolution. We tested two approaches: (1) similarities of tetramer relative frequencies, (2) alignment-free comparisons based on exact k = 14 oligonucleotide matches. First, we explored 5126 reference bacterial host strains and 284 associated phages and found an approximate threshold for distinguishing lysogenic and lytic phages using both oligonucleotide-based methods. The analysis of 6482 plasmids revealed the potential for horizontal gene transfer between different host genera and, in some cases, distant bacterial taxa. Subsequently, we experimentally analyzed combinations of 138 Klebsiella pneumoniae strains and their 41 phages and found that the phages with the largest number of interactions with these strains in the laboratory had the shortest genomic distances to K. pneumoniae. We then applied our methods to 24 single-cells from a hot spring biofilm containing 41 uncultured phage-host pairs, and the results were compatible with the lysogenic life cycle of phages detected in this environment. In conclusion, oligonucleotide-based genome analysis methods can be used for predictions of (1) life cycles of environmental phages, (2) phages with the broadest host range in culture collections, and (3) potential horizontal gene transfer by plasmids.
Bibliographic reference
Arnau Llombart, Vicente Díaz Villanueva, Wladimiro Mifsut Benet, Jorge Villasante Soriano, Paula Beamud, Beatriz Mompó, Paula Sanjuán Verdeguer, Rafael González Candelas, Fernando Domingo Calap, Pilar D unková, Mária 2023 Inference of the life cycle of environmental phages from genomic signature distances to their hosts Viruses 15 5 1196