Bacteriophage lambda is a virus which infects E. coli. It has a complex set of regulatory mechanisms to determine whether it will:
  1. lysogenize the bacterium: quietly insert its DNA into the bacterium's genome and become dormant, waiting to be reproduced whenever the bacterium reproduces

  2. lyse the bacterium: hijack the bacterium's cellular machinery to reproduce itself and prepare to infect more bacteria, causing the bacterium to self-destruct shortly after infection

This bacteriophage is particularly useful to geneticists because parts of it can be used to introduce foreign DNA into a bacterium's genome. It is often used in laboratory research as a cloning vector.

From the science dictionary at

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