Information on how emerging pathogens can invade and persist and spread within host populations remains sparse. In the 1980s, a multidrug-resistant Salmonella enterica serotype Typhimurium clone lysogenized by a bacteriophage carrying the sopE virulence gene caused an epidemic among cattle and humans in Europe. Here we show that phage-mediated horizontal transfer of the sopE gene enhances the production of host-derived nitrate, an energetically highly valuable electron acceptor, in a mouse colitis model. In turn, nitrate fuels a bloom of S. Typhimurium in the gut lumen through anaerobic nitrate respiration while suppressing genes for the utilization of energetically inferior electron acceptors such as tetrathionate. Through this mechanism, horizontal transfer of sopE can enhance the fitness of S. Typhimurium, resulting in its significantly increased abundance in the feces.
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