• Open Access

Phages limit the evolution of bacterial antibiotic resistance in experimental microcosms


Quan-Guo Zhang, State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China.
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e-mail: zhangqg@bnu.edu.cn


The evolution of multi-antibiotic resistance in bacterial pathogens, often resulting from de novo mutations, is creating a public health crisis. Phages show promise for combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the efficacy of which, however, may also be limited by resistance evolution. Here, we suggest that phages may be used as supplements to antibiotics in treating initially sensitive bacteria to prevent resistance evolution, as phages are unaffected by most antibiotics and there should be little cross-resistance to antibiotics and phages. In vitro experiments using the bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens, a lytic phage, and the antibiotic kanamycin supported this prediction: an antibiotic–phage combination dramatically decreased the chance of bacterial population survival that indicates resistance evolution, compared with antibiotic treatment alone, whereas the phage alone did not affect bacterial survival. This effect of the combined treatment in preventing resistance evolution was robust to immigration of bacteria from an untreated environment, but not to immigration from environment where the bacteria had coevolved with the phage. By contrast, an isogenic hypermutable strain constructed from the wild-type P. fluorescens evolved resistance to all treatments regardless of immigration, but typically suffered very large fitness costs. These results suggest that an antibiotic–phage combination may show promise as an antimicrobial strategy.