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Antibiotic production in a spatially structured environment



Ecological factors influencing the effects of antibiotic production were explored experimentally and theoretically. A spatially structured model was used to model the dynamics of antibiotic-producing and nonproducing bacteria in which growth of the nonproducers was reduced by neighbouring antibiotic producers. Various factors affecting spatial interactions between the bacteria were examined for their impact on antibiotic producers. Spatial clustering had a positive impact on the effect of antibiotic production, as measured by the decline in growth of the nonproducing strain, while increasing the initial density of the nonproducing strain had a negative impact. Experiments examined the growth of antibiotic-producing Streptomyces species and a nonproducing, antibiotic-sensitive strain of Bacillus subtilis that were coinoculated on surface media. There was an effect of the Streptomyces on Bacillus growth in some experiments but not in others. In light of the predictions from the model, unintentional clustering of cells is a more likely explanation for this finding than different initial Bacillus densities. The importance of spatial structure seen in this study is consistent with a terrestrial rather than an aquatic distribution of antibiotic-producing bacteria, and may have implications in the search for novel antibiotics.