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Frequency-dependent Selection In Bacterial Populations

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There are many situations in which the direction and intensity of natural selection in bacterial populations will depend on the relative frequencies of genotypes. In some cases, this selection will favour rare genotypes and result in the maintenance of genetic variability; this is termed stabilizing frequency-dependent selection. In other cases, selection will only favour genotypes when they are common. Rare types cannot invade and genetic variability will not be maintained; this is known as disruptive frequency-dependent selection. Phage-mediated selection for bacteria with novel restriction-modification systems is frequency-dependent and stabilizing. In mass culture, selection for the production of toxins and allelopathic agents is likely to be frequency-dependent but disruptive. This also occurs in selection favouring genes and transposable elements that cause mutations. Here I review the results of theoretical and experimental studies of stabilizing and disruptive frequency-dependent selection in bacterial populations, and speculate on the importance of this kind of selection in the adaptation and evolution of these organisms and their accessory elements (plasmid, phage and transposons).