Bacteria are highly social organisms that communicate via signaling molecules, move collectively over surfaces and make biofilm communities. Nonetheless, our main line of defense against pathogenic bacteria consists of antibiotics-drugs that target individual-level traits of bacterial cells and thus, regrettably, select for resistance against their own action. A possible solution lies in targeting the mechanisms by which bacteria interact with each other within biofilms. The emerging field of microbial social evolution combines molecular microbiology with evolutionary theory to dissect the molecular mechanisms and the evolutionary pressures underpinning bacterial sociality. This exciting new research can ultimately lead to new therapies against biofilm infections that exploit evolutionary cheating or the trade-off between biofilm formation and dispersal.
Virulent phages and their bacterial hosts represent an unusual sort of predator-prey system where each time a prey is eaten, hundreds of new predators are born. It is puzzling how, despite the apparent effectiveness of the phage predators, they manage to avoid driving their bacterial prey to extinction. Here we consider a phage-bacterial ecosystem on a two-dimensional (2-d) surface and show that homogeneous space in itself enhances coexistence. We analyze different behavioral mechanisms that can facilitate coexistence in a spatial environment. For example, we find that when the latent times of the phage are allowed to evolve, selection favors "mediocre killers," since voracious phage rapidly deplete local resources and go extinct. Our model system thus emphasizes the differences between short-term proliferation and long-term ecosystem sustainability.
Many Proteobacteria use acyl-homoserine lactone (AHL)-mediated quorum sensing to activate the production of antibiotics at high cell density. Extracellular factors like antibiotics can be considered public goods shared by individuals within a group. Quorum-sensing control of antibiotic production may be important for protecting a niche or competing for limited resources in mixed bacterial communities. To begin to investigate the role of quorum sensing in interspecies competition, we developed a dual-species co-culture model using the soil saprophytes Burkholderia thailandensis (Bt) and Chromobacterium violaceum (Cv). These bacteria require quorum sensing to activate the production of antimicrobial factors that inhibit growth of the other species. We demonstrate that quorum-sensing-dependent antimicrobials can provide a competitive advantage to either Bt or Cv by inhibiting growth of the other species in co-culture. Although the quorum-sensing signals differ for each species, we show that the promiscuous signal receptor encoded by Cv can sense signals produced by Bt, and that this ability to eavesdrop on Bt can provide Cv an advantage in certain situations. We use an in silico approach to investigate the effect of eavesdropping in competition, and show conditions where early activation of antibiotic production resulting from eavesdropping can promote competitiveness. Our work supports the idea that quorum sensing is important for interspecies competition and that promiscuous signal receptors allow eavesdropping on competitors in mixed microbial habitats.
Bacteriophage are voracious predators of bacteria and a major determinant in shaping bacterial life strategies. Many phage species are virulent, meaning that infection leads to certain death of the host and immediate release of a large batch of phage progeny. Despite this apparent voraciousness, bacteria have stably coexisted with virulent phages for eons. Here, using individual-based stochastic spatial models, we study the conditions for achieving coexistence on the edge between two habitats, one of which is a bacterial refuge with conditions hostile to phage whereas the other is phage friendly. We show how bacterial density-dependent, or quorum-sensing, mechanisms such as the formation of biofilm can produce such refuges and edges in a self-organized manner. Coexistence on these edges exhibits the following properties, all of which are observed in real phage-bacteria ecosystems but difficult to achieve together in nonspatial ecosystem models: (i) highly efficient virulent phage with relatively long lifetimes, high infection rates and large burst sizes; (ii) large, stable, and high-density populations of phage and bacteria; (iii) a fast turnover of both phage and bacteria; and (iv) stability over evolutionary timescales despite imbalances in the rates of phage vs. bacterial evolution.
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