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Bacteriophage burst size is the average number of phage virions released from infected bacterial cells, and its magnitude depends on the duration of an intracellular progeny accumulation phase. Burst size is often measured at the population level, not the single-cell level, and consequently, statistical moments are not commonly available. In this study, we estimated the bacteriophage lambda (ƛ) single-cell burst size mean and variance following different intracellular accumulation period durations by employing Escherichia coli lysogens bearing lysis-deficient ƛ prophages. Single lysogens can be isolated and chemically lysed at desired times following prophage induction to quantify progeny intracellular accumulation within individual cells. Our data showed that ƛ phage burst size initially increased exponentially with increased lysis time (i.e., period between induction and chemical lysis) and then saturated at longer lysis times. We also demonstrated that cell-to-cell variation, or “noise,” in lysis timing did not contribute significantly to burst size noise. The burst size noise remained constant with increasing mean burst size. The most likely explanation for the experimentally observed constant burst size noise was that cell-to-cell differences in burst size originated from intercellular heterogeneity in cellular capacities to produce phages. The mean burst size measured at different lysis times was positively correlated to cell volume, which may determine the cellular phage production capacity. However, experiments controlling for cell size indicated that there are other factors in addition to cell size that determine this cellular capacity.


Kannoly, Sherin,Gabriella Oken, Jonathan Shadan, David Musheyev, Kevin Singh, Abhyudai Singh, John J. Dennehy. "Single-Cell Approach Reveals Intercellular Heterogeneity in Phage-Producing Capacities." Microbiology Spectrum. 2022. doi: 10.1128/spectrum.02663-21

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