Viral Messaging

Phages—viruses that infect bacteria—are apparently quite sociable.

Once thought to passively acquire bacterial distress signals, phages actually communicate with each other by releasing a tiny protein when infecting cells. Messages get “louder” as more cells are infected, geneticist Roten Sorek found, and phages use chatter to determine whether to go dormant or attack.

Phages that use peptides can only “speak” to close relatives but can listen in on messages between other phages. Some collaborate to launch attacks in waves that weaken bacteria.

Dubbed “sociovirology,” new studies are adding credence to growing evidence of viruses’ sophistication. Learning how to manipulate messaging may help tailor treatments.


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