Hybrid Vigor: Importance of Hybrid Phages in Early Insights in Molecular Biology. Academic Article uri icon


  • Laboratory-generated hybrids between phage and related phages played a seminal role in establishment of the model system, which, in turn, served to develop many of the foundational concepts of molecular biology, including gene structure and control. Important hybrids with phages 21 and 434 were the earliest of such phages. To understand the biology of these hybrids in full detail, we determined the complete genome sequences of phages 21 and 434. Although both genomes are canonical members of the -like phage family, they both carry unsuspected bacterial virulence gene types not previously described in this group of phages. In addition, we determined the sequences of the hybrid phages imm21, imm434, and h434 imm21. These sequences show that the replacements of DNA by nonhomologous segments of 21 or 434 DNA occurred through homologous recombination in adjacent sequences that are nearly identical in the parental phages. These five genome sequences correct a number of errors in published sequence fragments of the 21 and 434 genomes, and they point out nine nucleotide differences from Sanger's original sequence that are likely present in most extant strains in laboratory use today. We discuss the historical importance of these hybrid phages in the development of fundamental tenets of molecular biology and in some of the earliest gene cloning vectors. The 434 and 21 genomes reinforce the conclusion that the genomes of essentially all natural -like phages are mosaics of sequence modules from a pool of exchangeable segments.

published proceedings

  • Microbiol Mol Biol Rev

altmetric score

  • 4

author list (cited authors)

  • Feiss, M., Young, R., Ramsey, J., Adhya, S., Georgopoulos, C., Hendrix, R. W., ... Casjens, S. R.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Feiss, Michael||Young, Ryland||Ramsey, Jolene||Adhya, Sankar||Georgopoulos, Costa||Hendrix, Roger W||Hatfull, Graham F||Gilcrease, Eddie B||Casjens, Sherwood R

publication date

  • December 2022