Bacterial surface structures such as type IV pili are common receptors for phage. Strains of the opportunistic pathogen
Pseudomonas aeruginosaexpress 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. aeruginosafrom 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. SIGNIFICANCE
Post-translational modification of bacterial and archaeal surface structures such as pili and flagella is widespread, but the function of these decorations is not clear. We propose that predation by bacteriophages that use these structures as receptors selects for strains that mask potential phage binding sites using glycosylation. Phages are of significant interest as alternative treatments for antibiotic-resistant pathogens, but the ways in which phage interact with host receptors are not well understood. We show that specific phage tail proteins allow for infection of strains with glycosylated pili, providing a foundation for the creation of designer phages that can circumvent first-line bacterial defenses.