Temporal stability and genetic diversity of 48-year-old T-series phages

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T-series phages have been model organisms for molecular biology since the 1940s. Given that these phages have been stocked, distributed, and propagated for decades across the globe, there exists the potential for genetic drift to accumulate between stocks over time. Here, we compared the temporal stability and genetic relatedness of laboratory-maintained phage stocks with a T-series collection from 1972. Only the T-even phages produced viable virions. We obtained complete genomes of these T-even phages, along with two contemporary T4 stocks. Performing comparative genomics, we found 12 and 16 nucleotide variations, respectively, in the genomes of T2 and T6, whereas there were;172 nucleotide variations between T4 sublines compared with the NCBI RefSeq genome. To account for the possibility of artifacts in NCBI RefSeq, we used the 1972 T4 stock as a reference and compared genetic and phenotypic variations between T4 sublines. Genomic analysis predicted nucleotide variations in genes associated with DNA metabolism and structural proteins. We did not, however, observe any differences in growth characteristics or host range between the T4 sublines. Our study highlights the potential for genetic drift between individually maintained T-series phage stocks, yet after 48 years, this has not resulted in phenotypic alterations in these important model organisms. IMPORTANCE T-series bacteriophages have been used throughout the world for various molecular biology researches, which were critical for establishing the fundamentals of molecular biology, from the structure of DNA to advanced gene-editing tools. These model bacteriophages help keep research data consistent and comparable between laboratories. However, we observed genetic variability when we compared contemporary sublines of T4 phages to a 48-year-old stock of T4. This may have effects on the comparability of results obtained using T4 phage. Here, we highlight the genomic differences between T4 sublines and examined phenotypic differences in phage replication parameters. We observed limited genomic changes but no phenotypic variations between T4 sublines. Our research highlights the possibility of genetic drift in model bacteriophages.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00990-20
Number of pages13
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • Bacteriophage evolution
  • Bacteriophage genetics
  • Bacteriophage T4
  • Bacteriophages
  • Genetic drift
  • Stability
  • T series
  • T4

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