Preliminary Characterization of Phage-Like Particles from the Male-Killing Mollicute Spiroplasma poulsonii (an Endosymbiont of Drosophila).
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Bacteriophages are vastly abundant, diverse, and influential, but with few exceptions (e.g. the Proteobacteria genera Wolbachia and Hamiltonella), the role of phages in heritable bacteria-arthropod interactions, which are ubiquitous and diverse, remains largely unexplored. Despite prior studies documenting phage-like particles in the mollicute Spiroplasma associated with Drosophila flies, genomic sequences of such phage are lacking, and their effects on the Spiroplasma-Drosophila interaction have not been comprehensively characterized. We used a density step gradient to isolate phage-like particles from the male-killing bacterium Spiroplasma poulsonii (strains NSRO and MSRO-Br) harbored by Drosophila melanogaster. Isolated particles were subjected to DNA sequencing, assembly, and annotation. Several lines of evidence suggest that we recovered phage-like particles of similar features (shape, size, DNA content) to those previously reported in Drosophila-associated Spiroplasma strains. We recovered three~19kb phage-like contigs (two in NSRO and one in MSRO-Br) containing 21-24 open reading frames, a read-alignment pattern consistent with circular permutation, and terminal redundancy (at least in NSRO). Although our results do not allow us to distinguish whether these phage-like contigs represent infective phage-like particles capable of transmitting their DNA to new hosts, their encoding of several typical phage genes suggests that they are at least remnants of functional phage. We also recovered two smaller non-phage-like contigs encoding a known Spiroplasma toxin (Ribosome Inactivating Protein; RIP), and an insertion element, suggesting that they are packaged into particles. Substantial homology of our particle-derived contigs was found in the genome assemblies of members of the Spiroplasma poulsonii clade.