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Keywords:

  • bacteriocins;
  • Enterobacteriaceae;
  • microbial defense systems;
  • microbial warfare

Abstract Bacteriocins are the most abundant and diverse defense systems in bacteria. As a result of the specific mechanisms of bacteriocin recognition and translocation into the target cell it is assumed that these toxins mediate intra-specific or population-level interactions. However, no published studies specifically address this question. We present here a survey of bacteriocin production in a collection of enteric bacteria isolated from wild mammals in Australia. A subset of the bacteriocin-producing strains was assayed for the ability to kill a broad range of enteric bacteria from the same bacterial collection. A novel method of estimating killing breadth was developed and used to compare the surveyed bacteriocins in terms of the phylogenetic range over which they kill. The most striking result is that although bacteriocin-producers kill members of their own species most frequently, some kill phylogenetically distant taxa more frequently than they kill closer relatives. This study calls into question the role these toxins play in natural populations. A significant number of bacteriocins are highly effective in killing inter-specific strains and thus bacteriocins may serve to mediate bacterial community interactions.