Filamentous phages: masters of a microbial sharing economy

Iain D Hay, Trevor Lithgow

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Bacteriophage (“bacteria eaters”) or phage is the collective term for viruses that infect bacteria. While most phages are pathogens that kill their bacterial hosts, the filamentous phages of the sub-class Inoviridae live in cooperative relationships with their bacterial hosts, akin to the principal behaviours found in the modern-day sharing economy: peer-to-peer support, to offset any burden. Filamentous phages impose very little burden on bacteria and offset this by providing service to help build better biofilms, or provision of toxins and other factors that increase virulence, or modified behaviours that provide novel motile activity to their bacterial hosts. Past, present and future biotechnology applications have been built on this phage–host cooperativity, including DNA sequencing technology, tools for genetic engineering and molecular analysis of gene expression and protein production, and phage-display technologies for screening protein–ligand and protein–protein interactions. With the explosion of genome and metagenome sequencing surveys around the world, we are coming to realize that our knowledge of filamentous phage diversity remains at a tip-of-the-iceberg stage, promising that new biology and biotechnology are soon to come.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere47427
Number of pages24
JournalEMBO Reports
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • filamentous phage
  • phage
  • procoat protein
  • secretin
  • Zot

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