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Commonly used in biotechnology applications, filamentous M13 phage are non-lytic viruses that infect E. coli and other bacteria, with the potential to promote horizontal gene transfer in natural populations with synthetic biology implications for engineering community systems. Using the E. coli strain TG1, we have investigated how a selective pressure involving elevated levels of toxic chromate, mimicking that found in some superfund sites, alters population dynamics following infection with either wild-type M13 phage or an M13-phage encoding a chromate reductase (Gh-ChrR) capable of the reductive immobilization of chromate (ie, M13-phageGh-ChrR). In the absence of a selective pressure, M13-phage infection results in a reduction in bacterial growth rate; in comparison, in the presence of chromate there are substantial increases in both cellular killing and biomass formation following infection of E. coli strain TG1with M13-phageGh-ChrR that is dependent on chromate-reductase activity. These results are discussed in terms of community structures that facilitate lateral gene transfer of beneficial traits that enhance phage replication, infectivity, and stability against environmental change.
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