Flexible genes establish widespread bacteriophage pan-genomes in cryoconite hole ecosystems

Christopher M. Bellas*, Declan C. Schroeder, Arwyn Edwards, Gary Barker, Alexandre M. Anesio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
86 Downloads (Pure)


Bacteriophage genomes rapidly evolve via mutation and horizontal gene transfer to counter evolving bacterial host defenses; such arms race dynamics should lead to divergence between phages from similar, geographically isolated ecosystems. However, near-identical phage genomes can reoccur over large geographical distances and several years apart, conversely suggesting many are stably maintained. Here, we show that phages with near-identical core genomes in distant, discrete aquatic ecosystems maintain diversity by possession of numerous flexible gene modules, where homologous genes present in the pan-genome interchange to create new phage variants. By repeatedly reconstructing the core and flexible regions of phage genomes from different metagenomes, we show a pool of homologous gene variants co-exist for each module in each location, however, the dominant variant shuffles independently in each module. These results suggest that in a natural community, recombination is the largest contributor to phage diversity, allowing a variety of host recognition receptors and genes to counter bacterial defenses to co-exist for each phage.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4403
Number of pages10
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 02 Sept 2020


  • Bacteriophages/genetics
  • Cyanobacteria/virology
  • Ecosystem
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Genes, Viral
  • Genome, Viral
  • Host Microbial Interactions/genetics
  • Ice Cover/microbiology
  • Metagenome
  • Metagenomics
  • Phylogeny


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