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Impact Of Phages On Two-Species Bacterial Communities

W. R. Harcombe, J. J. Bull

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ABSTRACT A long history of experimental work has shown that addition of bacteriophages to a monoculture of bacteria leads to only a temporary depression of bacterial levels. Resistant bacteria usually become abundant, despite reduced growth rates relative to those of phage-sensitive bacteria. This restoration of high bacterial density occurs even if the phages evolve to overcome bacterial resistance. We believe that the generality of this result may be limited to monocultures, in which the resistant bacteria do not face competition from bacterial species unaffected by the phage. As a simple case, we investigated the impact of phages attacking one species in a two-species culture of bacteria. In the absence of phages, Escherichia coli B and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium were stably maintained during daily serial passage in glucose minimal medium (M9). When either of two E. coli -specific phages (T7 or T5) was added to the mixed culture, E. coli became extinct or was maintained at densities that were orders of magnitude lower than those before phage introduction, even though the E. coli densities with phage reached high levels when Salmonella was absent. In contrast, the addition of a phage that attacked only Salmonella (SP6) led to transient decreases in the bacterial number whether E. coli was absent or present. These results suggest that phages can sometimes, although not always, provide long-term suppression of target bacteria.