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Evolution. 2010 Oct;64(10):2980-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2010.01037.x. Epub 2010 Aug 19.

Impact of bacterial mutation rate on coevolutionary dynamics between bacteria and phages.

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Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, United Kingdom.


Mutator bacteria are frequently found in natural populations of bacteria and although coevolution with parasitic viruses (phages) is thought to be one reason for their persistence, it remains unclear how the presence of mutators affects coevolutionary dynamics. We hypothesized that phages must themselves adapt more rapidly or go extinct, in the face of rapidly evolving mutator bacteria. We compared the coevolutionary dynamics of wild-type Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 with a lytic phage to the dynamics of an isogenic mutator of P. fluorescens SBW25 together with the same phage. At the beginning of the experiment both wild-type bacteria and mutator bacteria coevolved with phages. However, mutators rapidly evolved higher levels of sympatric resistance to phages. The phages were unable to "keep-up" with the mutator bacteria, and these rates of coevolution declined to less than the rates of coevolution between the phages and wild-type bacteria. By the end of the experiment, the sympatric resistance of the mutator bacteria was not significantly different to the sympatric resistance of the wild-type bacteria. This suggests that the importance of mutators in the coevolutionary interactions with a particular phage population is likely to be short-lived. More generally, the results demonstrate that coevolving enemies may escape from Red-Queen dynamics.

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