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FEBS Lett. 2007 Jan 9;581(1):151-6. Epub 2006 Dec 13.

Sporulating bacteria prefers predation to cannibalism in mixed cultures.

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Department of Chemical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Powai, Mumbai, India.


Predatory behavior, a property associated with ecosystems, is not commonly observed in microorganisms. However, cannibalistic tendencies have been observed in microorganisms under stress. For example, pure culture of Bacillus subtilis exhibits cannibalism under nutrient limitation. It has been proposed that a fraction of cells in the population produce Spo0A, a regulatory protein that is responsible for delaying sporulation. Cells containing spo0A would produce a killing factor by activating skf operon and an associated pump to export the factor. Cells that do not contain spo0A in the population are lysed. However in addition to the competition among the cells of B. subtilis, these cells also compete with other organisms for the limited nutrients. In this work, we report the cannibalistic behavior of B. subtilis in presence of Escherichia coli under severe nutritional limitation. We demonstrate that B. subtilis lyses cells of E. coli using an antibacterial factor under the regulation of Spo0A. Our experiments also suggest that B. subtilis prefers predation of E. coli to cannibalism in mixed cultures. B. subtilis also demonstrated predation in mixed cultures with other soil microorganisms, such as, Xanthomonas campestris, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobactor lwoffi. This may offer B. subtilis a niche to survive in an environment with limited nutrients and under competition from other microorganisms.

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