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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Nov 27;109(48):19804-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1213963109. Epub 2012 Nov 12.

Quantitative single-cell characterization of bacterial interactions reveals type VI secretion is a double-edged sword.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


Interbacterial interaction pathways play an important role in defining the structure and complexity of bacterial associations. A quantitative description of such pathways offers promise for understanding the forces that contribute to community composition. We developed time-lapse fluorescence microscopy methods for quantitation of interbacterial interactions and applied these to the characterization of type VI secretion (T6S) in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Our analyses allowed a direct determination of the efficiency of recipient cell lysis catalyzed by this intercellular toxin delivery pathway and provided evidence that its arsenal extends beyond known effector proteins. Measurement of T6S apparatus localization revealed correlated activation among neighboring cells, which, taken together with genetic data, implicate the elaboration of a functional T6S apparatus with a marked increase in susceptibility to intoxication. This possibility was supported by the identification of T6S-inactivating mutations in a genome-wide screen for resistance to T6S-mediated intoxication and by time-lapse fluorescence microscopy analyses showing a decreased lysis rate of recipient cells lacking T6S function. Our discoveries highlight the utility of single-cell approaches for measuring interbacterial phenomena and provide a foundation for studying the contribution of a widespread bacterial interaction pathway to community structure.

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