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Study reveals how viruses collectively decide the fate of a bacterial cell
Date:9/15/2008

A new study suggests that bacteria-infecting viruses called phages can make collective decisions about whether to kill host cells immediately after infection or enter a latent state to remain within the host cell.

The research, published in the September 15 issue of the Biophysical Journal, shows that when multiple viruses infect a cell, this increases the number of viral genomes and therefore the overall level of viral gene expression. Changes in viral gene expression can have a dramatic nonlinear effect on gene networks that control whether viruses burst out of the host cell or enter a latent state.

"What has confounded the virology community for quite some time is the observation that the cell fate of a bacteria infected by a single virus can be dramatically different than that infected by two viruses," said Joshua Weitz, an assistant professor in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "Our study suggests that viruses can collectively decide whether or not to kill a host, and that individual viruses 'talk' to each other as a result of interactions between viral genomes and viral proteins they direct the infected host to produce."

To study viral infections, Weitz teamed with postdoctoral fellow Yuriy Mileyko, graduate student Richard Joh and Eberhard Voit, who is a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, the David D. Flanagan Chair Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Biological Systems and director of the new Integrative BioSystems Institute at Georgia Tech.

Nearly all previous theoretical studies have claimed that switching between "lysis" and "latency" pathways depends on some change in environmental conditions or random chance. However, this new study suggests that the response to co-infection can be an evolvable feature of viral life history.

For this study, the researchers analyzed the decision circuit that determines whether
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Contact: Abby Vogel
avogel@gatech.edu
404-385-3364
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News
Source:Eurekalert  

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