Diverse enzymatic activities mediate antiviral immunity in prokaryotes

Prokaryotic enzymes for viral defense

The arms race between prokaryotes and viruses provides a strong evolutionary force to create diverse enzymatic activities that mediate antiviral immune responses. These immune components often cluster together in the host genomes, leading to expanded defense systems. Taking advantage of the evolutionary modularity of defense systems, Gao et al. bioinformatically predicted defense genes in most available bacterial and archaeal genomes. In addition, they reconstituted the newly identified systems in Escherichia coli and verified their defense functions against specific bacteriophages. In particular, they characterized defense functions for several predicted nucleoside triphosphatases.

Science, this issue p. 1077


Bacteria and archaea are frequently attacked by viruses and other mobile genetic elements and rely on dedicated antiviral defense systems, such as restriction endonucleases and CRISPR, to survive. The enormous diversity of viruses suggests that more types of defense systems exist than are currently known. By systematic defense gene prediction and heterologous reconstitution, here we discover 29 widespread antiviral gene cassettes, collectively present in 32% of all sequenced bacterial and archaeal genomes, that mediate protection against specific bacteriophages. These systems incorporate enzymatic activities not previously implicated in antiviral defense, including RNA editing and retron satellite DNA synthesis. In addition, we computationally predict a diverse set of other putative defense genes that remain to be characterized. These results highlight an immense array of molecular functions that microbes use against viruses.

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