Journal of virology 2016 Oct 2890(22) 10284-10298
Giant tailed bacterial viruses, or phages, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa phage ϕKZ, have long genomes packaged into large, atypical virions. Many aspects of ϕKZ and related phage biology are poorly understood, mostly due to the fact that the functions of the majority of their proteins are unknown. We hypothesized that the Salmonella enterica phage SPN3US could be a useful model phage to address this gap in knowledge. The 240-kb SPN3US genome shares a core set of 91 genes with ϕKZ and related phages, ∼61 of which are virion genes, consistent with the expectation that virion complexity is an ancient, conserved feature. Nucleotide sequencing of 18 mutants enabled assignment of 13 genes as essential, information which could not have been determined by sequence-based searches for 11 genes. Proteome analyses of two SPN3US virion protein mutants with knockouts in 64 and 241 provided new insight into the composition and assembly of giant phage heads. The 64 mutant analyses revealed all the genetic determinants required for assembly of the SPN3US head and a likely head-tail joining role for gp64, and its homologs in related phages, due to the tailless-particle phenotype produced. Analyses of the mutation in 241, which encodes an RNA polymerase β subunit, revealed that without this subunit, no other subunits are assembled into the head, and enabled identification of a "missing" β’ subunit domain. These findings support SPN3US as an excellent model for giant phage research, laying the groundwork for future analyses of their highly unusual virions, host interactions, and evolution.
In recent years, there has been a paradigm shift in virology with the realization that extremely large viruses infecting prokaryotes (giant phages) can be found in many environments. A group of phages related to the prototype giant phage ϕKZ are of great interest due to their virions being among the most complex of prokaryotic viruses and their potential for biocontrol and phage therapy applications. Our understanding of the biology of these phages is limited, as a large proportion of their proteins have not been characterized and/or have been deemed putative without any experimental verification. In this study, we analyzed Salmonella phage SPN3US using a combination of genomics, genetics, and proteomics and in doing so revealed new information regarding giant phage head structure and assembly and virion RNA polymerase composition. Our findings demonstrate the suitability of SPN3US as a model phage for the growing group of phages related to ϕKZ.