Molecular piracy is a biological phenomenon in which one replicon (the pirate) uses the structural proteins encoded by another replicon (the helper) to package its own genome and thus allow its propagation and spread. Such piracy is dependent on a complex web of interactions between the helper and the pirate that occur at several levels, from transcriptional control to macromolecular assembly. The best characterized examples of molecular piracy are from the E. coli P2/P4 system and the S. aureus SaPI pathogenicity island/helper system. In both of these cases, the pirate element is mobilized and packaged into phage-like transducing particles assembled from proteins supplied by a helper phage that belongs to the Caudovirales order of viruses (tailed, dsDNA bacteriophages).
This review summarizes and compares the processes that are involved in molecular piracy in these two systems.