Transposable Element Insertions into the Escherichia coli Polysialic Acid Gene Cluster Result in Resistance to the K1F Bacteriophage

Kathryn M. Styles, Rebecca K. Locke, Lauren Cowley, Aidan T. Brown, Antonia P. Sagona

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (SciVal)


Reviewing the genetics underlying the arms race between bacteria and bacteriophages can offer an interesting insight into the development of bacterial resistance and phage co-evolution. This study shows how the natural development of resistances to the K1F bacteriophage, a phage which targets the K1 capsule of pathogenic Escherichia coli, can come about through insertion sequences (IS). Of the K1F resistant mutants isolated, two were of particular interest. The first of these showed full resistance to K1F and was found to have disruptions to kpsE, the product of which is involved in polysialic acid translocation. The second, after showing an initial susceptibility to K1F which then developed to full resistance, had disruptions to neuC, a gene involved in one of the early steps of polysialic acid biosynthesis. Both of these mutations came with a fitness cost and produced considerable phenotypic differences in the completeness and location of the K1 capsule when compared with the wild type. Sequential treatment of these two K1F resistant mutants with T7 resulted in the production of a variety of isolates, many of which showed a renewed susceptibility to K1F, indicating that these insertion sequence mutations are reversible, as well as one isolate that developed resistance to both phages. IMPORTANCE Bacteriophages have many potential uses in industry and the clinical environment as an antibacterial control measure. One of their uses, phage therapy, is an appealing alternative to antibiotics due to their high specificity. However, as with the rise in antimicrobial resistance (AMR), it is critical to improve our understanding of how resistance develops against these viral agents. In the same way as bacteria will evolve and mutate antibiotic receptors so they can no longer be recognized, resistance to bacteriophages can come about via mutations to phage receptors, preventing phage binding and infection. We have shown that Escherichia coli will become resistant to the K1F bacteriophage via insertion element reshufflings causing null mutations to elements of the polysialic acid biosynthetic cluster. Exposure to the T7 bacteriophage then resulted in further changes in the position of these IS elements, further altering their resistance and sensitivity profiles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e0211221
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Issue number3
Early online date25 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2022


  • IS2
  • bacteriophage
  • evolution
  • genomes
  • host resistance
  • insertion sequences
  • resistance
  • transposable elements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Ecology
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology
  • Infectious Diseases


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