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Viruses. 2012 May;4(5):663-87. doi: 10.3390/v4050663. Epub 2012 Apr 26.

Spatial vulnerability: bacterial arrangements, microcolonies, and biofilms as responses to low rather than high phage densities.

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Department of Microbiology, The Ohio State University, 1680 University Dr., Mansfield, OH 44906, USA.


The ability of bacteria to survive and propagate can be dramatically reduced upon exposure to lytic bacteriophages. Study of this impact, from a bacterium's perspective, tends to focus on phage-bacterial interactions that are governed by mass action, such as can be observed within continuous flow or similarly planktonic ecosystems. Alternatively, bacterial molecular properties can be examined, such as specific phage‑resistance adaptations. In this study I address instead how limitations on bacterial movement, resulting in the formation of cellular arrangements, microcolonies, or biofilms, could increase the vulnerability of bacteria to phages. Principally: (1) Physically associated clonal groupings of bacteria can represent larger targets for phage adsorption than individual bacteria; and (2), due to a combination of proximity and similar phage susceptibility, individual bacteria should be especially vulnerable to phages infecting within the same clonal, bacterial grouping. Consistent with particle transport theory-the physics of movement within fluids-these considerations are suggestive that formation into arrangements, microcolonies, or biofilms could be either less profitable to bacteria when phage predation pressure is high or require more effective phage-resistance mechanisms than seen among bacteria not living within clonal clusters. I consider these ideas of bacterial 'spatial vulnerability' in part within a phage therapy context.


adsorption; bacteriophage; biofilms; cellular arrangements; ecology; microcolonies; particle transport; phage therapy; phages

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