Background: Ribonucleotide reductase (RNR), the enzyme responsible for the formation of deoxyribonucleotides from ribonucleotides, is found in all domains of life and many viral genomes. RNRs are also amongst the most abundant genes identified in environmental metagenomes. This study focused on understanding the distribution, diversity, and evolution of RNRs in phages (viruses that infect bacteria). Hidden Markov Model profiles were used to analyze the proteins encoded by 685 completely sequenced double-stranded DNA phages and 22 environmental viral metagenomes to identify RNR homologs in cultured phages and uncultured viral communities, respectively. Results: RNRs were identified in 128 phage genomes, nearly tripling the number of phages known to encode RNRs. Class I RNR was the most common RNR class observed in phages (70%), followed by class II (29%) and class III (28%). Twenty-eight percent of the phages contained genes belonging to multiple RNR classes. RNR class distribution varied according to phage type, isolation environment, and the host's ability to utilize oxygen. The majority of the phages containing RNRs are Myoviridae (65%), followed by Siphoviridae (30%) and Podoviridae (3%). The phylogeny and genomic organization of phage and host RNRs reveal several distinct evolutionary scenarios involving horizontal gene transfer, co-evolution, and differential selection pressure. Several putative split RNR genes interrupted by self-splicing introns or inteins were identified, providing further evidence for the role of frequent genetic exchange. Finally, viral metagenomic data indicate that RNRs are prevalent and highly dynamic in uncultured viral communities, necessitating future research to determine the environmental conditions under which RNRs provide a selective advantage. Conclusions: This comprehensive study describes the distribution, diversity, and evolution of RNRs in phage genomes and environmental viral metagenomes. The distinct distributions of specific RNR classes amongst phages, combined with the various evolutionary scenarios predicted from RNR phylogenies suggest multiple inheritance sources and different selective forces for RNRs in phages. This study significantly improves our understanding of phage RNRs, providing insight into the diversity and evolution of this important auxiliary metabolic gene as well as the evolution of phages in response to their bacterial hosts and environments.
Bibliographical noteThis is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
- Phage metadata
- Ribonucleotide reductase
- Split gene