Scientists have discovered that mobile introns act as molecular weapons. They encode an enzyme called an endonuclease that destroys the genome of rival phages, interfering with their ability to reproduce. The discovery challenges the long-held belief that “genetic freeloaders” provide no benefit to the host organism.

“This is the first time that a selfish genetic element has been shown to provide a competitive advantage to the host organism it invades,” says study co-author Erica Birkholz.

The results are particularly important for phage therapy, a promising method for treating bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics. Understanding how phages use these genetic elements to compete with each other could increase the effectiveness of phage cocktails used in therapy.

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Source: Ferra

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