Moselio Schaechter

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February 04, 2010

Talmudic Question #58

What if all phages on this planet went on strike and refused to have their genes expressed?


Phages: infecting bacteria in, on and near you. All the time...B-)

Nice to see how many folk out there are aware of just how important these organisms are in shaping our world. And probably others, too. Phages rule, OK!!

This is an amazing question to ask. i have become very AWARE of phage role in ecosystems lately.. and remind everyone here of the recent discoveries about phage dynamics in marine systems.
I recommend Danavaro et al,. Major viral impact on the functioning of benthic deep-sea ecosystems. Nautre 2008
454 ( 1084-1088).

Many sorts of bacteria would have to abandon most of the environments they occupy, because they depend on finding phages left behind by their sistern carrying the genes they need to survive there when they arrive.

I wonder if oxygen levels would change, given that many cyanophages carry both photosystem I and II genes that are expressed during infection.

I'd also imagine that many (if not all) pathogenic bacteria would become much less virulent. Countless toxins (cholerae, shiga, diptheria, botulinum, and more) are produced by prophages. I'm pretty sure that there are some prophages that alter surface structures for adhesion and invasion during infection as well.

Does this mean I would be phageless? Because if it does then I vote we pay them whatever they are asking. Being phageless is like a fish hook without the worm

Hi Robert,

What an impressive list! No wonder we think phages are important!

Say hi to Abe.

Elio S,

Short term: Organisms that used phage expression to compete for their niche and available nutrient pools would die back under selective pressure. Organisms kept in check by phage challenge would grow to higher populations.

Longer term: Loss of phage-induced nutrient cycling would lead to deposition of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous out of their current environments. They would either be locked into senescent organisms or get deposited on the ocean floor, slowing the rate of elemental cycling.

Lack of phage-mediated horizontal gene transfer would lower the genetic resilience of bacterial species that lack alternative transfer mechanisms (conjugation, natural competency).

It depends. Are we talking blue collar phages or those heading toward a gulch somewhere?

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