Mechanisms of coexistence of a bacteria and a bacteriophage in a spatially homogeneous environment


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When bacteriophage are added to laboratory bacteria populations, bacteria mutants that are resistant to the phage quickly dominate the population. The phage will only persist in the long-term if there are sufficient bacteria in the population that show susceptibility to the phage. We investigated the mechanisms allowing for coexistence by adding the virulent bacteriophage φ6 to cultures of the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae pv. phaseolicola in a spatially homogeneous environment. We saw large differences between replicate cultures, in particular when one or both of the species persisted. These differences can be explained by variation in the timing of the appearance of various resistant phenotypes in the bacteria populations before the phage were added, which determines their relative frequencies within the populations. Although these resistant phenotypes have similar fitnesses in the presence and in the absence of the phage, they have a profound effect on the persistence of the phage. Our results give a clearer understanding of the ecological mechanisms that lead to the coexistence of bacteria and virulent phage in environments where there are no spatial refuges available to the bacteria population.