Carrying photosynthesis genes increases ecological fitness of cyanophagein silico

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SummarySeveral viruses infecting marine cyanobacteria carry photosynthesis genes (e.g.psbA, hli) that are expressed, yield proteins (D1, HLIP) and help maintain the cell's photosynthesis apparatus during the latent period. This increases energy and speeds up virus production, allowing for a reduced latent period (a fitness benefit), but it also increases the DNA size, which slows down new virus production and reduces burst size (a fitness cost). How do these genes affect the net ecological fitness of the virus? Here, this question is explored using a combined systems biology and systems ecology (‘systems bioecology’) approach. A novel agent-based model simulates individual cyanobacteria cells and virus particles, each with their own genes, transcripts, proteins and other properties. The effect of D1 and HLIP proteins is explicitly considered using a mechanistic photosynthesis component. The model is calibrated to the available database forProchlorococcusecotype MED4 and podovirus P-SSP7. Laboratory- and field-scalein silicosurvival, competition and evolution (gene packaging error) experiments with wild type and genetically engineered viruses are performed to develop vertical survival and fitness profiles, and to determine the optimal gene content. The results suggest that photosynthesis genes are nonessential, increase fitness in a manner correlated with irradiance, and that the wild type has an optimal gene content.

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