[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Multicellular eukaryotes can perform functions that exceed the possibilities of an individual cell. These functions emerge through interactions between differentiated cells that are precisely arranged in space. Bacteria also form multicellular collectives that consist of differentiated but genetically identical cells. How does the functionality of these collectives depend on the spatial arrangement of the differentiated bacteria? In a previous issue of PLOS Biology, van Gestel and colleagues reported an elegant example of how the spatial arrangement of differentiated cells gives rise to collective behavior in Bacillus subtilus colonies, further demonstrating the similarity of bacterial collectives to higher multicellular organisms.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Populations of genetically identical microorganisms residing in the same environment can display marked variability in their phenotypic traits; this phenomenon is termed phenotypic heterogeneity. The relevance of such heterogeneity in natural habitats is unknown, because phenotypic characterization of a sufficient number of single cells of the same species in complex microbial communities is technically difficult. We report a procedure that allows to measure phenotypic heterogeneity in bacterial populations from natural environments, and use it to analyze N2 and CO2 fixation of single cells of the green sulfur bacterium Chlorobium phaeobacteroides from the meromictic lake Lago di Cadagno. We incubated lake water with 15N2 and 13CO2 under in situ conditions with and without NH4+. Subsequently, we used flow cell sorting with auto-fluorescence gating based on a pure culture isolate to concentrate C. phaeobacteroides from its natural abundance of 0.2 % to 26.5 % of total bacteria. C. phaeobacteroides cells were identified using catalyzed-reporter deposition fluorescence in situ hybridization (CARD-FISH) targeting the 16S rRNA in the sorted population with a species-specific probe. In a last step, we used nanometer-scale secondary-ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS) to measure the incorporation 15N and 13C stable isotopes in more than 252 cells. We found that C. phaeobacteroides fixes N2 in the absence of NH4+, but not in the presence of NH4+ as has previously been suggested. N2 and CO2 fixation were heterogeneous among cells and positively correlated indicating that N2 and CO2 fixation activity interact and positively facilitate each other in individual cells. However, because CARD-FISH identification cannot detect genetic variability among cells of the same species, we cannot exclude genetic variability as a source for phenotypic heterogeneity in this natural population. Our study demonstrates the technical feasibility of measuring phenotypic heterogeneity in a rare bacte
Frontiers in Microbiology 04/2015; 6:243. DOI:10.3389/fmicb.2015.00243 · 3.99 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Antibiotics are powerful therapeutics but are not equally effective against all cells in bacterial populations. Bacteria that express an antibiotic-tolerant phenotype ("persisters") can evade treatment . Persisters can cause relapses of the infection after the end of the therapy . It is still poorly understood whether persistence affects the evolution of bacterial virulence. During infections, persisters have been found preferentially at particular sites within the host [3, 4]. If bacterial virulence factors are required to reach such sites, treatment with antibiotics could impose selection on the expression of virulence genes, in addition to their well-established effects on bacterial resistance. Here, we report that treatment with antibiotics selects for virulence and fosters transmissibility of Salmonella Typhimurium. In a mouse model for Salmonella diarrhea, treatment with the broad-spectrum antibiotic ciprofloxacin reverses the outcome of competition between wild-type bacteria and avirulent mutants that can spontaneously arise during within-host evolution . While avirulent mutants take over the gut lumen and abolish disease transmission in untreated mice, ciprofloxacin tilts the balance in favor of virulent, wild-type bacteria. This is explained by the need for virulence factors to invade gut tissues and form a persistent reservoir. Avirulent mutants remain in the gut lumen and are eradicated. Upon cessation of antibiotic treatment, tissue-lodged wild-type pathogens reseed the gut lumen and thereby facilitate disease transmissibility to new hosts. Our results suggest a general principle by which antibiotic treatment can promote cooperative virulence during within-host evolution, increase duration of transmissibility, and thereby enhance the spread of an infectious disease.
Current Biology 08/2014; DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2014.07.028 · 9.57 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Phenotypic heterogeneity can confer clonal groups of organisms with new functionality. A paradigmatic example is the bistable expression of virulence genes in Salmonella typhimurium, which leads to phenotypically virulent and phenotypically avirulent subpopulations. The two subpopulations have been shown to divide labor during S. typhimurium infections. Here, we show that heterogeneous virulence gene expression in this organism also promotes survival against exposure to antibiotics through a bet-hedging mechanism. Using microfluidic devices in combination with fluorescence time-lapse microscopy and quantitative image analysis, we analyzed the expression of virulence genes at the single cell level and related it to survival when exposed to antibiotics. We found that, across different types of antibiotics and under concentrations that are clinically relevant, the subpopulation of bacterial cells that express virulence genes shows increased survival after exposure to antibiotics. Intriguingly, there is an interplay between the two consequences of phenotypic heterogeneity. The bet-hedging effect that arises through heterogeneity in virulence gene expression can protect clonal populations against avirulent mutants that exploit and subvert the division of labor within these populations. We conclude that bet-hedging and the division of labor can arise through variation in a single trait and interact with each other. This reveals a new degree of functional complexity of phenotypic heterogeneity. In addition, our results suggest a general principle of how pathogens can evade antibiotics: Expression of virulence factors often entails metabolic costs and the resulting growth retardation could generally increase tolerance against antibiotics and thus compromise treatment.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Combination therapy is rarely used to counter resistance evolution in bacterial infections. An expansion of combination therapy requires knowledge of how drugs interact at inhibitory concentrations. More than 50 years ago it has been noted that if bactericidal drugs are most potent on actively dividing cells, then the inhibition of growth induced by a bacteriostatic drug should result in an overall reduction of drug efficacy when used in combination with a bactericidal drug. Our goal here was to investigate this hypothesis systematically. We first constructed time-kill curves using five different antibiotics at clinically relevant concentrations and observed antagonism between bactericidal and bacteriostatic drugs. We extended our investigation by performing a screen of pairwise combinations across 21 different antibiotics at sub-inhibitory concentrations, and found that strong antagonistic interactions are enriched significantly amongst combinations of bacteriostatic and bactericidal drugs. Finally, since our hypothesis relies on a phenotypic effect produced by different drug classes, we recreated these experiments in a microfluidic device and performed time-lapse microscopy to directly observe and quantify growth and division of individual cells under controlled antibiotic concentrations. While our single-cell observations supported the antagonism between bacteriostatic and bactericidal drugs, they revealed an unexpected variety of cellular responses to antagonistic drug combinations, suggesting that multiple mechanisms underlie this interaction.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Determining the molecular changes that give rise to functional innovations is a major unresolved problem in biology. The paucity of examples has served as a significant hindrance in furthering our understanding of this process. Here we used experimental evolution with the bacterium Escherichia coli to quantify the molecular changes underlying functional innovation in 68 independent instances ranging over 22 different metabolic functions. Using whole-genome sequencing, we show that the relative contribution of regulatory and structural mutations depends on the cellular context of the metabolic function. In addition, we find that regulatory mutations affect genes that act in pathways relevant to the novel function, whereas structural mutations affect genes that act in unrelated pathways. Finally, we use population genetic modeling to show that the relative contributions of regulatory and structural mutations during functional innovation may be affected by population size. These results provide a predictive framework for the molecular basis of evolutionary innovation, which is essential for anticipating future evolutionary trajectories in the face of rapid environmental change.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 02/2014; 111(8). DOI:10.1073/pnas.1318797111 · 9.67 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In vivo, antibiotics are often much less efficient than ex vivo and relapses can occur. The reasons for poor in vivo activity are still not completely understood. We have studied the fluoroquinolone antibiotic ciprofloxacin in an animal model for complicated Salmonellosis. High-dose ciprofloxacin treatment efficiently reduced pathogen loads in feces and most organs. However, the cecum draining lymph node (cLN), the gut tissue, and the spleen retained surviving bacteria. In cLN, approximately 10%-20% of the bacteria remained viable. These phenotypically tolerant bacteria lodged mostly within CD103(+)CX3CR1(-)CD11c(+) dendritic cells, remained genetically susceptible to ciprofloxacin, were sufficient to reinitiate infection after the end of the therapy, and displayed an extremely slow growth rate, as shown by mathematical analysis of infections with mixed inocula and segregative plasmid experiments. The slow growth was sufficient to explain recalcitrance to antibiotics treatment. Therefore, slow-growing antibiotic-tolerant bacteria lodged within dendritic cells can explain poor in vivo antibiotic activity and relapse. Administration of LPS or CpG, known elicitors of innate immune defense, reduced the loads of tolerant bacteria. Thus, manipulating innate immunity may augment the in vivo activity of antibiotics.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The ISME Journal: Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology is the official Journal of the International Society for Microbial Ecology, publishing high-quality, original research papers, short communications, commentary articles and reviews in the rapidly expanding and diverse discipline of microbial ecology.
The ISME Journal 02/2014; 8(2):492. DOI:10.1038/ismej.2013.184 · 9.30 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In this study, we aimed at investigating heterogeneity in the expression of metabolic genes in clonal populations of Escherichia coli growing on glucose as the sole carbon source. Different metabolic phenotypes can arise in these clonal populations through variation in the expression of glucose transporters and metabolic enzymes. First, we focused on the glucose transporters PtsG and MglBAC to analyze the diversity of glucose uptake strategies. Second, we analyzed phenotypic variation in the expression of genes involved in gluconeogenesis and acetate scavenging (as acetate is formed and excreted during bacterial growth on glucose), which can reveal, for instance, phenotypic subpopulations that cross-feed through the exchange of acetate. In these experiments, E. coli MG1655 strains containing different transcriptional GFP reporters were grown in chemostats and reporter expression was measured with flow cytometry.
Our results suggest heterogeneous expression of metabolic genes in bacterial clonal populations grown in glucose environments. The two glucose transport systems exhibited different level of heterogeneity. The majority of the bacterial cells expressed the reporters for both glucose transporters MglBAC and PtsG and a small fraction of cells only expressed the reporter for Mgl. At a low dilution rate, signals from transcriptional reporters for acetyl-CoA synthetase Acs and phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase Pck indicated that almost all cells expressed the genes that are part of acetate utilization and the gluconeogenesis pathway, respectively. Possible co-existence of two phenotypic subpopulations differing in acs expression occurred at the threshold of the switch to overflow metabolism. The overflow metabolism results in the production of acetate and has been previously reported to occur at intermediate dilution rates in chemostats with high concentration of glucose in the feed.
Analysis of the heterogeneous expression of reporters for genes involved in glucose and acetate metabolism raises new question whether different metabolic phenotypes are expressed in clonal populations growing in continuous cultures fed on glucose as the initially sole carbon source.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Bacteria produce a wide arsenal of toxic compounds in order to kill competing species. Bacteriocins, protein-based toxins produced by nearly all bacteria, have generally been considered a ubiquitous anti-competitor strategy, used to kill competing bacterial strains. Some of these bacteriocins are encoded on plasmids, which also code for closely linked immunity compounds (thereby rendering toxin producing cells immune to their own toxin). However, the production of bacteriocins can also be interpreted as a means to promote plasmid stability by preferentially selecting for cells carrying the plasmid. If, for example, a cell were to lose the plasmid, it would no longer produce the immunity compound and would be killed by its bacteriocin-producing clone mates. In this respect, bacteriocins can be regarded as similar to previously described toxin-antitoxin systems that are able promote the stable transmission of plasmids to daughter cells. In order to test this prediction, we carried out an experimental evolution study using the bacterium Escherichia coli, finding that bacteriocins can indeed select for the stable maintenance of plasmids. This suggests that bacteriocins can act primarily as selfish genetic elements promoting their own transmission in the population, which may help explain their unique ecology and evolution.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Pathogens often infect hosts through collective actions: they secrete growth-promoting compounds or virulence factors, or evoke host reactions that fuel the colonization of the host. Such behaviours are vulnerable to the rise of mutants that benefit from the collective action without contributing to it; how these behaviours can be evolutionarily stable is not well understood. We address this question using the intestinal pathogen Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium (hereafter termed S. typhimurium), which manipulates its host to induce inflammation, and thereby outcompetes the commensal microbiota. Notably, the virulence factors needed for host manipulation are expressed in a bistable fashion, leading to a slow-growing subpopulation that expresses virulence genes, and a fast-growing subpopulation that is phenotypically avirulent. Here we show that the expression of the genetically identical but phenotypically avirulent subpopulation is essential for the evolutionary stability of virulence in this pathogen. Using a combination of mathematical modelling, experimental evolution and competition experiments we found that within-host evolution leads to the emergence of mutants that are genetically avirulent and fast-growing. These mutants are defectors that exploit inflammation without contributing to it. In infection experiments initiated with wild-type S. typhimurium, defectors increase only slowly in frequency. In a genetically modified S. typhimurium strain in which the phenotypically avirulent subpopulation is reduced in size, defectors rise more rapidly, inflammation ceases prematurely, and S. typhimurium is quickly cleared from the gut. Our results establish that host manipulation by S. typhimurium is a cooperative trait that is vulnerable to the rise of avirulent defectors; the expression of a phenotypically avirulent subpopulation that grows as fast as defectors slows down this process, and thereby promotes the evolutionary stability of virulence. This points to a key role of bistable virulence gene expression in stabilizing cooperative virulence and may lead the way to new approaches for controlling pathogens.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Most organisms live in ever-changing environments, and have to cope with a range of different conditions. Often, the set of biological traits that are needed to grow, reproduce, and survive varies between conditions. As a consequence, organisms have evolved sensory systems to detect environmental signals, and to modify the expression of biological traits in response. However, there are limits to the ability of such plastic responses to cope with changing environments. Sometimes, environmental shifts might occur suddenly, and without preceding signals, so that organisms might not have time to react. Other times, signals might be unreliable, causing organisms to prepare themselves for changes that then do not occur. Here, we focus on such unreliable signals that indicate the onset of adverse conditions. We use analytical and individual-based models to investigate the evolution of simple rules that organisms use to decide whether or not to switch to a protective state. We find evolutionary transitions towards organisms that use a combination of random switching and switching in response to the signal. We also observe that, in spatially heterogeneous environments, selection on the switching strategy depends on the composition of the population, and on population size. These results are in line with recent experiments that showed that many unicellular organisms can attain different phenotypic states in a probabilistic manner, and lead to testable predictions about how this could help organisms cope with unreliable signals.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Essential genes code for fundamental cellular functions required for the viability of an organism. For this reason, essential genes are often highly conserved across organisms. However, this is not always the case: orthologues of genes that are essential in one organism are sometimes not essential in other organisms or are absent from their genomes. This suggests that, in the course of evolution, essential genes can be rendered nonessential. How can a gene become non-essential? Here we used genetic manipulation to deplete the products of 26 different essential genes in Escherichia coli. This depletion results in a lethal phenotype, which could often be rescued by the overexpression of a non-homologous, non-essential gene, most likely through replacement of the essential function. We also show that, in a smaller number of cases, the essential genes can be fully deleted from the genome, suggesting that complete functional replacement is possible. Finally, we show that essential genes whose function can be replaced in the laboratory are more likely to be non-essential or not present in other taxa. These results are consistent with the notion that patterns of evolutionary conservation of essential genes are influenced by their compensability-that is, by how easily they can be functionally replaced, for example through increased expression of other genes.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Medical and pharmacological communities have long searched for antimicrobial drugs that increase their effect when used in combination, an interaction known as synergism. These drug combinations, however, impose selective pressures in favour of multi-drug resistance and as a result, the benefit of synergy may be lost after only a few bacterial generations. Furthermore, there is experimental evidence that antibiotic treatment can disrupt colonization resistance by shifting the balance between enteropathogenic and commensal bacteria in favour of the pathogens, with the potential to increase the risk of infections. So, we ask, what is the best way of using synergistic drugs? We pose an evolutionary model of commensal and pathogenic bacteria competing in a continuous culture device for a single limiting carbon source under the effect of two bacteriostatic and synergistic antibiotics. This model allows us to evaluate the efficacy of different drug deployment strategies and, using ideas from optimal control theory, to understand whether there are circumstances in which other types of therapy might be favoured over those based on fixed-dose multi-drug combinations. Our main result can be stated thus: the optimal deployment of synergistic antibiotics to remove a pathogen in the presence of commensal bacteria in our model system occurs not in combination, but by deploying them sequentially.
Journal of The Royal Society Interface 05/2012; 9(75):2488-502. DOI:10.1098/rsif.2012.0279 · 3.92 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The mammalian gut harbors a dense microbial community interacting in multiple ways, including horizontal gene transfer (HGT). Pangenome analyses established particularly high levels of genetic flux between Gram-negative Enterobacteriaceae. However, the mechanisms fostering intraenterobacterial HGT are incompletely understood. Using a mouse colitis model, we found that Salmonella-inflicted enteropathy elicits parallel blooms of the pathogen and of resident commensal Escherichia coli. These blooms boosted conjugative HGT of the colicin-plasmid p2 from Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium to E. coli. Transconjugation efficiencies of ~100% in vivo were attributable to high intrinsic p2-transfer rates. Plasmid-encoded fitness benefits contributed little. Under normal conditions, HGT was blocked by the commensal microbiota inhibiting contact-dependent conjugation between Enterobacteriaceae. Our data show that pathogen-driven inflammatory responses in the gut can generate transient enterobacterial blooms in which conjugative transfer occurs at unprecedented rates. These blooms may favor reassortment of plasmid-encoded genes between pathogens and commensals fostering the spread of fitness-, virulence-, and antibiotic-resistance determinants.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 01/2012; 109(4):1269-74. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1113246109 · 9.67 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Gene expression is subject to random perturbations that lead to fluctuations in the rate of protein production. As a consequence, for any given protein, genetically identical organisms living in a constant environment will contain different amounts of that particular protein, resulting in different phenotypes. This phenomenon is known as "phenotypic noise." In bacterial systems, previous studies have shown that, for specific genes, both transcriptional and translational processes affect phenotypic noise. Here, we focus on how the promoter regions of genes affect noise and ask whether levels of promoter-mediated noise are correlated with genes' functional attributes, using data for over 60% of all promoters in Escherichia coli. We find that essential genes and genes with a high degree of evolutionary conservation have promoters that confer low levels of noise. We also find that the level of noise cannot be attributed to the evolutionary time that different genes have spent in the genome of E. coli. In contrast to previous results in eukaryotes, we find no association between promoter-mediated noise and gene expression plasticity. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that, in bacteria, natural selection can act to reduce gene expression noise and that some of this noise is controlled through the sequence of the promoter region alone.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Using optimal control theory as the basic theoretical tool, we investigate the efficacy of different antibiotic treatment protocols in the most exacting of circumstances, described as follows. Viewing a continuous culture device as a proxy for a much more complex host organism, we first inoculate the device with a single bacterial species and deem this the 'commensal' bacterium of our host. We then force the commensal to compete for a single carbon source with a rapidly evolving and fitter 'pathogenic bacterium', the latter so-named because we wish to use a bacteriostatic antibiotic to drive the pathogen toward low population densities. Constructing a mathematical model to mimic the biology, we do so in such a way that the commensal would be eventually excluded by the pathogen if no antibiotic treatment were given to the host or if the antibiotic were over-deployed. Indeed, in our model, all fixed-dose antibiotic treatment regimens will lead to the eventual loss of the commensal from the host proxy. Despite the obvious gravity of the situation for the commensal bacterium, we show by example that it is possible to design drug deployment protocols that support the commensal and reduce the pathogen load. This may be achieved by appropriately fluctuating the concentration of drug in the environment; a result that is to be anticipated from the theory optimal control where bang-bang solutions may be interpreted as intermittent periods of either maximal and minimal drug deployment. While such 'antibiotic pulsing' is near-optimal for a wide range of treatment objectives, we also use this model to evaluate the efficacy of different antibiotic usage strategies to show that dynamically changing antimicrobial therapies may be effective in clearing a bacterial infection even when every 'static monotherapy' fails.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: A number of recent experiments at the single-cell level have shown that genetically identical bacteria that live in homogeneous environments often show a substantial degree of phenotypic variation between cells. Often, this variation is attributed to stochastic aspects of biology-the fact that many biological processes involve small numbers of molecules and are thus inherently variable. However, not all variation between cells needs to be stochastic in nature; one deterministic process that could be important for cell variability in some bacterial species is the age of the cell poles. Working with the alphaproteobacterium Methylobacterium extorquens, we monitored individuals in clonally growing populations over several divisions and determined the pole age, cell size, and interdivision intervals of individual cells. We observed the high levels of variation in cell size and the timing of cell division that have been reported before. A substantial fraction of this variation could be explained by each cell's pole age and the pole age of its mother: cell size increased with increasing pole age, and the interval between cell divisions decreased. A theoretical model predicted that populations governed by such processes will quickly reach a stable distribution of different age and size classes. These results show that the pole age distribution in bacterial populations can contribute substantially to cellular individuality. In addition, they raise questions about functional differences between cells of different ages and the coupling of cell division to cell size.
Journal of bacteriology 07/2011; 193(19):5216-21. DOI:10.1128/JB.00329-11 · 2.81 Impact Factor