Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 22126996
Microbiol. Mol. Biol. Rev. 2011 Dec;75(4):610-35
Prokaryotes, bacteria and archaea, are the most abundant cellular organisms among those sharing the planet Earth with human beings (among others). However, numerous ecological studies have revealed that it is actually prokaryotic viruses that predominate on our planet and outnumber their hosts by at least an order of magnitude. An understanding of how this viral domain is organized and what are the mechanisms governing its evolution is therefore of great interest and importance. The vast majority of characterized prokaryotic viruses belong to the order Caudovirales, double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) bacteriophages with tails. Consequently, these viruses have been studied (and reviewed) extensively from both genomic and functional perspectives. However, albeit numerous, tailed phages represent only a minor fraction of the prokaryotic virus diversity. Therefore, the knowledge which has been generated for this viral system does not offer a comprehensive view of the prokaryotic virosphere. In this review, we discuss all families of bacterial and archaeal viruses that contain more than one characterized member and for which evolutionary conclusions can be attempted by use of comparative genomic analysis. We focus on the molecular mechanisms of their genome evolution as well as on the relationships between different viral groups and plasmids. It becomes clear that evolutionary mechanisms shaping the genomes of prokaryotic viruses vary between different families and depend on the type of the nucleic acid, characteristics of the virion structure, as well as the mode of the life cycle. We also point out that horizontal gene transfer is not equally prevalent in different virus families and is not uniformly unrestricted for diverse viral functions.