The rapid emergence of antibiotic resistance among many pathogenic bacteria has created a profound need to discover new alternatives to antibiotics. Bacteriophages, the viruses of microbes, express special proteins to overtake the metabolism of the bacterial host they infect, the best known of which are involved in bacterial lysis. However, the functions of majority of bacteriophage encoded gene products are not known, i.e., they represent the hypothetical proteins of unknown function (HPUFs). In the current study we present a phage genomics-based screening approach to identify phage HPUFs with antibacterial activity with a long-term goal to use them as leads to find unknown targets to develop novel antibacterial compounds. The screening assay is based on the inhibition of bacterial growth when a toxic gene is expression-cloned into a plasmid vector. It utilizes an optimized plating assay producing a significant difference in the number of transformants after ligation of the toxic and non-toxic genes into a cloning vector. The screening assay was first tested and optimized using several known toxic and non-toxic genes. Then, it was applied to screen 94 HPUFs of bacteriophage φR1-RT, and identified four HPUFs that were toxic to Escherichia coli
. This optimized assay is in principle useful in the search for bactericidal proteins of any phage, and also opens new possibilities to understanding the strategies bacteriophages use to overtake bacterial hosts.
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