I’ve written previously about bacteriophages, the viruses that infect bacteria, and I studied them for my first lab project. So I was pretty excited by a lovely little pearl in PLoS Pathogens last month discussing mycobacteriophages; the viruses that specifically attack mycobacteria. Mycobacteria are a group of bacteria that contain some highly dangerous human pathogens, including the agents of tuberculosis: Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
M. tuberculosis are particularly slow at reproducing, sometimes taking as much as 24 hours before splitting in half. This is chronically slow for a bacteria considering E. coli manages it in about 20 minutes. Bacteriophages are therefore very useful for increasing the genetic diversity of the bacterial population by carrying around genes between individual bacterium. Phages have also been exploited by researchers who find it useful to be able to insert new genes into bacteria making them easier to genetically manipulate and study.
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