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

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


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 (US)
Article number4403
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2012-624) to A.M.A. and C.M.B. C.M.B. was also supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF, M 2299-B32). A.M.A. was also supported by NE/J02399X/1 and Aarhus University Research Funding (AuFF). A.E. was supported by NE/S001034/1.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).


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

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Journal Article


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