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Prophage vs. Provirus: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Updated on December 20, 2023
A prophage is a bacteriophage DNA integrated into a bacterial genome. A provirus is viral DNA integrated into the genome of a host cell, often in eukaryotic cells.

Key Differences

A prophage is formed when a bacteriophage's DNA is incorporated into a bacterial host's genome. In contrast, a provirus is created when a virus, typically a retrovirus, integrates its DNA into the genome of its host cell, which can be a eukaryotic cell.
Prophages specifically exist within bacterial cells as part of the lysogenic cycle of bacteriophages. Provirus, on the other hand, is formed in a broader range of host cells, including animal and human cells, as part of the life cycle of retroviruses like HIV.
Prophages can become active, leading to the lytic cycle where new bacteriophages are produced. Provirus DNA can be activated to form new virus particles, which often affects the host cell's normal functions and can lead to diseases like AIDS.
Prophages play a role in horizontal gene transfer among bacteria, potentially transferring beneficial or harmful genes. Provirus DNA can alter the genetic makeup of the host cell, sometimes leading to mutations or oncogenesis.
Prophage presence can be detected by changes in bacterial behavior or by genetic methods. Similarly, provirus DNA can be detected using molecular techniques, and its presence is significant in the study of viral infections and gene therapy.

Comparison Chart

Host Organism

Bacterial cells.
Eukaryotic cells, including humans.

Nature of Virus

Bacteriophage DNA.
Retrovirus DNA.

Role in Host

Can transfer genes between bacteria.
Can alter host cell functions.


Leads to the production of new phages.
Can produce new virus particles.

Impact on Host

May confer new traits to bacteria.
Can cause diseases or mutations.

Prophage and Provirus Definitions


A prophage exists latently in the bacterial host.
The prophage remained inactive in the bacterial cell.


A provirus can be transmitted to daughter cells during cell division.
The provirus was passed on during the host cell's replication.


Prophage can induce the lysogenic cycle in bacteria.
The prophage entered the lysogenic cycle under specific conditions.


A provirus is viral DNA integrated into a eukaryotic host genome.
HIV integrates its genetic material as a provirus in human cells.


Prophages contribute to bacterial genetic diversity.
The prophage introduced new genes to the bacterium.


Provirus formation is a key step in retroviral replication.
The retrovirus formed a provirus within the host's DNA.


Prophage is bacteriophage DNA integrated into a bacterial genome.
The bacterial strain harbored a prophage within its DNA.


Provirus DNA can cause host cell mutations.
The integration of the provirus led to genetic mutations in the cell.


Prophage activation leads to the lytic cycle.
When the prophage activated, it initiated the production of new phages.


Provirus activation can result in viral particle production.
The activation of the provirus triggered the formation of new viruses.


The latent form of a bacteriophage in which the viral genes are incorporated into the bacterial chromosomes without causing disruption of the bacterial cell.


A form of a virus that allows it to be integrated into the genome of a host cell and to replicate in concert with the cell's genetic material without causing cell lysis.


(biology) The latent form of a bacteriophage in which the viral genome is inserted into the host chromosome.


(virology) A virus genome, such as HIV, that integrates itself into the DNA of a host cell so as to be passively replicated along with the host genome.


Where is a prophage found?

Prophage is found within bacterial cells.

What triggers a prophage to enter the lytic cycle?

Environmental stress or certain triggers can activate a prophage's lytic cycle.

What is a prophage?

A prophage is a bacteriophage DNA integrated into a bacterial genome.

What is a provirus?

A provirus is viral DNA integrated into a eukaryotic host cell's genome.

How does a prophage affect bacteria?

Prophage can alter bacterial characteristics and transfer genes.

What diseases can be caused by a provirus?

Provirus can lead to diseases like AIDS when associated with HIV.

What cells contain provirus?

Provirus is found in eukaryotic cells, including human cells.

Can a prophage cause disease?

Prophages themselves don't cause disease but can transfer virulence factors to bacteria.

How is a provirus formed?

Provirus forms when a retrovirus integrates its DNA into the host cell's genome.

Can a provirus be inherited?

Yes, a provirus can be inherited during cell division.

Do all viruses form prophages?

No, only bacteriophages form prophages in bacteria.

Can a provirus affect the host cell's functions?

Yes, a provirus can alter or disrupt normal cellular functions.

Is a provirus always active?

No, a provirus can remain latent in the host genome for long periods.

What role does a provirus play in gene therapy?

Provirus mechanisms are studied for potential applications in gene therapy.

How does a prophage impact bacterial evolution?

Prophages contribute to bacterial evolution through horizontal gene transfer.

Can a provirus be removed from the genome?

Removing a provirus from the genome is challenging and a focus of ongoing research.

How is a prophage detected?

Prophage is detected through genetic analysis or observing bacterial behavior.

Do all viruses form proviruses?

No, mainly retroviruses form proviruses in host cells.

Can a prophage benefit its host bacteria?

Yes, a prophage can confer beneficial traits to its host bacteria.

Is a prophage's DNA identical to the original bacteriophage?

Yes, the prophage's DNA is derived from the original bacteriophage's DNA.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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