Phage tail-like particles are versatile bacterial nanomachines - A mini-review
Type VI secretion systems and tailocins, two bacterial phage tail-like particles, have been reported to foster interbacterial competition. Both nanostructures enable their producer to kill other bacteria competing for the same ecological niche. Previously, type VI secretion systems and particularly R-type tailocins were considered highly specific, attacking a rather small range of competitors. Their specificity is conferred by cell surface receptors of the target bacterium and receptor-binding proteins on tailocin tail fibers and tail fiber-like appendages of T6SS. Since many R-type tailocin gene clusters contain only one tail fiber gene it was appropriate to expect small R-type tailocin target ranges. However, recently up to three tail fiber genes and broader target ranges have been reported for one plant-associated Pseudomonas strain. Here, we show that having three tail fiber genes per R-type tailocin gene cluster is a common feature of several strains of Gram-negative (often plant-associated) bacteria of the genus Kosakonia. Knowledge about the specificity of type VI secretion systems binding to target bacteria is even lower than in R-type tailocins. Although the mode of operation implicated specific binding, it was only published recently that type VI secretion systems develop tail fiber-like appendages. Here again Kosakonia, exhibiting up to three different type VI secretion systems, may provide valuable insights into the antagonistic potential of plant-associated bacteria. Current understanding of the diversity and potential of phage tail-like particles is fragmentary due to various synonyms and misleading terminology. Consistency in technical terms is a precondition for concerted and purposeful research, which precedes a comprehensive understanding of the specific interaction between bacteria producing phage tail-like particles and their targets. This knowledge is fundamental for selecting and applying tailored, and possibly engineered, producer bacteria for antagonizing plant pathogenic microorganisms.