Gabriel M. F. Almeida, Elina Laanto, Roghaieh Ashrafi, Lotta-Riina Sundberg
mBio, 2019, 10 (6): e01984-19. DOI https://doi.org/10.1128/mBio.01984-19
Metazoans were proposed to host bacteriophages on their mucosal surfaces in a symbiotic relationship, where phages provide an external immunity against bacterial infections and the metazoans provide phages a medium for interacting with bacteria. However, scarce empirical evidence and model systems have left the phage-mucus interaction poorly understood. Here, we show that phages bind both to porcine mucus and to rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) primary mucus, persist up to 7 days in the mucosa, and provide protection against Flavobacterium columnare. Also, exposure to mucus changes the bacterial phenotype by increasing bacterial virulence and susceptibility to phage infections. This trade-off in bacterial virulence reveals ecological benefit of maintaining phages in the metazoan mucosal surfaces. Tests using other phage-bacterium pairs suggest that phage binding to mucus may be widespread in the biosphere, indicating its importance for disease, ecology, and evolution. This phenomenon may have significant potential to be exploited in preventive phage therapy.