Stable Neutralization of a Virulence Factor in Bacteria Using Temperate Phage in the Mammalian Gut
Elimination or alteration of select members of the gut microbiota is key to therapeutic efficacy. However, the complexity of these microbial inhabitants makes it challenging to precisely target bacteria. Here, we deliver exogenous genes to specific bacteria by genomic integration of temperate phage for long-lasting modification. As a real-world therapeutic test, we engineered lambda phage to transcriptionally repress Shiga toxin by using genetic hybrids between lambda and other lambdoid phages to overcome resistance encoded by the virulence-expressing prophage. We show that a single dose of engineered phage propagates throughout the bacterial community and reduces Shiga toxin production in an enteric mouse model of infection without markedly affecting bacterial concentrations. Our work reveals a new framework for transferring functions to bacteria within their native environment. IMPORTANCE With the increasing frequency of antibiotic resistance, it is critical to explore new therapeutic strategies for treating bacterial infections. Here, we use a temperate phage, i.e., one that integrates itself into the bacterial genome, to neutralize the expression of a virulence factor by modifying bacterial function at the genetic level. We show that Shiga toxin production can be significantly reduced in vitro and in the mammalian gut. Alternative to traditional applications of phage therapy that rely on killing bacteria, our genetics-based antivirulence approach introduces a new framework for treating bacterial infections.