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Bacteriophage phiM12 Analyzed

Innovative work by two Florida State University (FSU) scientists and colleagues shows the structural and DNA breakdown of a bacteria-invading virus and is being featured on the cover of the February 2014 issue of the journal Virology. Dr. Kathryn Jones and Dr. Elizabeth Stroupe, both assistant professors in the FSU Department of Biological Science, have deconstructed a type of virus called a bacteriophage, which infects bacteria. Their work will help researchers gain a better understanding of how this type of virus invades and impacts bacteria, and could be particularly useful for the agriculture industry. "It turns out there are a lot of novel things about it," Dr. Jones said. Until now, there was little known about this particular bacteriophage, called phiM12, which infects a nitrogen-fixing bacterium called Sinorhizobium meliloti. Dr. Jones focused on sequencing the DNA of phiM12 and analyzing its evolutionary context, while Dr. Stroupe examined its overall physical structure. "The bacteriophage is really just a tool for studying the bacterium," Dr. Stroupe said. "No one thought to sequence it before." That tool, Dr. Stroupe said, will give scientists more insight into the basic functions of the phiM12 bacteriophage. phiM12 is the first reported bacteriophage to have its particular combination of DNA sequences and the particular shape of its protein shell determined. Understanding both the DNA and structure may provide an understanding of the proteins a bacteriophage produces and how it chooses the bacteria it invades. In the case of phiM12, this could be particularly useful in the future for the agriculture community and seed companies. Important crop plants depend on biological nitrogen fixation by the bacteria that is preyed upon by this phage. Nitrogen fixation is the process by which abundant nitrogen gas in the atmosphere is converted to the scarce soil resources ammonia and nitrate. Dr. Jones's and Dr. Stroupe's work, is divided into two articles in the February 2014 issue of Virology. One article, authored primarily by Dr. Jones and an FSU undergraduate honors thesis student, Tess Brewer, focuses on the genetic makeup of the virus, while the other article, by Dr. Stroupe, Ms. Brewer, Dr. Jones, and Dr. Duncan R. Sousa, examines the physical structure. Image depicts a representative bacteriophage. [Press release] [Virology article-genomics] [Virology abstract-structure]