A diversity-generating retroelement encoded by a globally ubiquitous Bacteroides phage

Sean Benler, Ana Georgina Cobián-Güemes, Katelyn McNair, Shr Hau Hung, Kyle Levi, Rob Edwards, Forest Rohwer

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25 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Diversity-generating retroelements (DGRs) are genetic cassettes that selectively mutate target genes to produce hypervariable proteins. First characterized in Bordetella bacteriophage BPP-1, the DGR creates a hypervariable phage tail fiber that enables host tropism switching. Subsequent surveys for DGRs conclude that the majority identified to date are bacterial or archaeal in origin. This work examines bacteriophage and bacterial genomes for novel phage-encoded DGRs. Results: This survey discovered 92 DGRs that were only found in phages exhibiting a temperate lifestyle. The majority of phage-encoded DGRs were identified as prophages in bacterial hosts from the phyla Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria, and Firmicutes. Sequence reads from these previously unidentified prophages were present in viral metagenomes (viromes), indicating these prophages can produce functional viruses. Five phages possessed hypervariable proteins with structural similarity to the tail fiber of BPP-1, whereas the functions of the remaining DGR target proteins were unknown. A novel temperate phage that harbors a DGR cassette targeting a protein of unknown function was induced from Bacteroides dorei. This phage, here named Bacteroides dorei Hankyphage, lysogenizes 13 different Bacteroides species and was present in 34% and 21% of whole-community metagenomes and human-associated viromes, respectively. Conclusions: Here, the number of known DGR-containing phages is increased from four to 92. All of these phages exhibit a temperate lifestyle, including a cosmopolitan human-associated phage. Targeted hypervariation by temperate phages may be a ubiquitous mechanism underlying phage-bacteria interaction in the human microbiome.

Original languageEnglish
Article number191
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.


  • Bacteroides
  • Diversity-generating retroelements
  • Prophage
  • Viromes


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