Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 31695182
Link to DOI – 10.1038/s41579-019-0278-2
Nat Rev Microbiol 2020 Feb; 18(2): 113-119
Viruses and their hosts are engaged in a constant arms race leading to the evolution of antiviral defence mechanisms. Recent studies have revealed that the immune arsenal of bacteria against bacteriophages is much more diverse than previously envisioned. These discoveries have led to seemingly contradictory observations: on one hand, individual microorganisms often encode multiple distinct defence systems, some of which are acquired by horizontal gene transfer, alluding to their fitness benefit. On the other hand, defence systems are frequently lost from prokaryotic genomes on short evolutionary time scales, suggesting that they impose a fitness cost. In this Perspective article, we present the ‘pan-immune system’ model in which we suggest that, although a single strain cannot carry all possible defence systems owing to their burden on fitness, it can employ horizontal gene transfer to access immune defence mechanisms encoded by closely related strains. Thus, the ‘effective’ immune system is not the one encoded by the genome of a single microorganism but rather by its pan-genome, comprising the sum of all immune systems available for a microorganism to horizontally acquire and use.