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Nature. 2010 Sep 2;467(7311):82-5. doi: 10.1038/nature09354.

Bacterial charity work leads to population-wide resistance.

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  • 1Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Center for BioDynamics, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.

Abstract

Bacteria show remarkable adaptability in the face of antibiotic therapeutics. Resistance alleles in drug target-specific sites and general stress responses have been identified in individual end-point isolates. Less is known, however, about the population dynamics during the development of antibiotic-resistant strains. Here we follow a continuous culture of Escherichia coli facing increasing levels of antibiotic and show that the vast majority of isolates are less resistant than the population as a whole. We find that the few highly resistant mutants improve the survival of the population's less resistant constituents, in part by producing indole, a signalling molecule generated by actively growing, unstressed cells. We show, through transcriptional profiling, that indole serves to turn on drug efflux pumps and oxidative-stress protective mechanisms. The indole production comes at a fitness cost to the highly resistant isolates, and whole-genome sequencing reveals that this bacterial altruism is made possible by drug-resistance mutations unrelated to indole production. This work establishes a population-based resistance mechanism constituting a form of kin selection whereby a small number of resistant mutants can, at some cost to themselves, provide protection to other, more vulnerable, cells, enhancing the survival capacity of the overall population in stressful environments.

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PMID:
20811456
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2936489
Free PMC Article

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