A broadly distributed predicted helicase/nuclease confers phage resistance via abortive infection
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There is strong selection for the evolution of systems that protect bacterial populations from viral attack. We report a single phage defense protein, Hna, that provides protection against diverse phages in Sinorhizobium meliloti, a nitrogen-fixing alpha-proteobacterium. Homologs of Hna are distributed widely across bacterial lineages, and a homologous protein from Escherichia coli also confers phage defense. Hna contains superfamily II helicase motifs at its N terminus and a nuclease motif at its C terminus, with mutagenesis of these motifs inactivating viral defense. Hna variably impacts phage DNA replication but consistently triggers an abortive infection response in which infected cells carrying the system die but do not release phage progeny. A similar host cell response is triggered in cells containing Hna upon expression of a phage-encoded single-stranded DNA binding protein (SSB), independent of phage infection. Thus, we conclude that Hna limits phage spread by initiating abortive infection in response to a phage protein.
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