Viruses (phages) influence many aspects of microbial processes including the population dynamics, diversity and evolution of their hosts. Yet we know practically nothing about the physiological interactions between hosts and phages during infection even though it is the outcome of these very interactions that affects the above-mentioned processes. Using marine cyanobacteria as a model system I propose to study the physiological interactions between ecologically important microbes and the phages that infect them to gain an understanding of the mechanisms through which they impact microbial ecology processes. Cyanobacteria are an important component of marine phytoplankton and contribute significantly to primary production in vast regions of the world’s oceans. The specific objectives of this proposed study are to: (1) Identify phage genes involved in taking over host metabolic processes; (2) Assess the fitness advantage to the phage provided by bacterial-like genes in phage genomes; (3) Develop a genetic manipulation system for cyanobacterial phages to determine the function of genes in (1) and (2); (4) Discover genes functioning in host defense mechanisms in diverse cyanobacterial-phage systems using whole-genome expression analysis and the generation of phage resistant strains; (5) Determine the impact of genes identified in (4) above on host fitness and phage development during infection. Discovery of the mechanisms employed by phage for taking over host metabolic processes and the defense mechanisms set into motion by the host to overcome phage infection will provide insight into how such interactions influence the diversity and evolution of both cyanobacteria and their phages. Furthermore, this study has high potential for uncovering new bacterial defense mechanisms as well as the discovery of novel viral mechanisms for shutting down bacterial metabolic processes, both of which may also have future practical applications.
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