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Viruses evolve to prevent bacterial hosts from committing suicide

University of Cambridge researchers have discovered an extraordinary way that bacterial parasites prevent their hosts from killing themselves to protect the wider colony.

Researchers funded by BBSRC discovered that a strain of the potato soft rot and blackleg bacterium Pectobacterium atrosepticum (AKA Erwinia) had evolved to commit suicide in the presence of certain viral parasites, known as bacteriophages, to limit the spread of viral infection in the wider bacterial population.

The bacterial cells in a population that commit "suicide" by dying prematurely can be viewed as acting "altruistically", giving up their lives to prevent viral replication in siblings in the rest of the culture, in a process called abortive infection.

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