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Bacterial surface structures such as type IV pili are common receptors for phage. Strains of the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa express one of five different major type IV pilin alleles, two of which are glycosylated with either lipopolysaccharide O-antigen units or polymers of D-arabinofuranose. Here we show that both these post-translational modifications protect P. aeruginosa from a variety of pilus-specific phages. We identified a phage capable of infecting strains expressing both non-glycosylated and glycosylated pilins, and through construction of a chimeric phage, traced this ability to its unique tail proteins. Alteration of pilin sequence, or masking of binding sites by glycosylation, both block phage infection. The energy invested by prokaryotes in glycosylating thousands of pilin subunits is thus explained by the protection against phage predation provided by these common decorations.
Link to the preprint on BioRXiv