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Curr Biol. 2006 Oct 24;16(20):2048-52.

Ecology of microbial invasions: amplification allows virus carriers to invade more rapidly when rare.

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  • 1Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712, USA.


Locally adapted residents present a formidable barrier to invasion . One solution for invaders is to kill residents . Here, we explore the comparative ecological dynamics of two distinct microbial mechanisms of killing competitors, via the release of chemicals (e.g., bacteriocins ) and via the release of parasites (e.g., temperate phage ). We compared the short-term population dynamics of susceptible E. coli K12 and isogenic carriers of phage varphi80 in experimental cultures to that anticipated by mathematical models using independently derived experimental parameters. Whereas phages are a direct burden to their carriers because of probabilistic host lysis, by killing competitor bacteria they can indirectly benefit bacterial kin made immune by carrying isogenic phage. This is similar to previously described bacteriocin-mediated effects. However, unlike chemical killing, viable phage trigger an epidemic among susceptible competitors, which become factories producing more phage. Amplification makes phage carriers able to invade well-mixed susceptibles even faster when rare, whereas chemical killers can only win in a well-mixed environment when sufficiently abundant. We demonstrate that for plausible parameters, the release of chemical toxins is superior as a resident strategy to repel invasions, whereas the release of temperate phage is superior as a strategy of invasion.

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