Escape from Lethal Bacterial Competition through Coupled Activation of Antibiotic Resistance and a Mobilized Subpopulation. Academic Article uri icon


  • Bacteria have diverse mechanisms for competition that include biosynthesis of extracellular enzymes and antibiotic metabolites, as well as changes in community physiology, such as biofilm formation or motility. Considered collectively, networks of competitive functions for any organism determine success or failure in competition. How bacteria integrate different mechanisms to optimize competitive fitness is not well studied. Here we study a model competitive interaction between two soil bacteria: Bacillus subtilis and Streptomyces sp. Mg1 (S. Mg1). On an agar surface, colonies of B. subtilis suffer cellular lysis and progressive degradation caused by S. Mg1 cultured at a distance. We identify the lytic and degradative activity (LDA) as linearmycins, which are produced by S. Mg1 and are sufficient to cause lysis of B. subtilis. We obtained B. subtilis mutants spontaneously resistant to LDA (LDAR) that have visibly distinctive morphology and spread across the agar surface. Every LDAR mutant identified had a missense mutation in yfiJK, which encodes a previously uncharacterized two-component signaling system. We confirmed that gain-of-function alleles in yfiJK cause a combination of LDAR, changes in colony morphology, and motility. Downstream of yfiJK are the yfiLMN genes, which encode an ATP-binding cassette transporter. We show that yfiLMN genes are necessary for LDA resistance. The developmental phenotypes of LDAR mutants are genetically separable from LDA resistance, suggesting that the two competitive functions are distinct, but regulated by a single two-component system. Our findings suggest that a subpopulation of B. subtilis activate an array of defensive responses to counter lytic stress imposed by competition. Coordinated regulation of development and antibiotic resistance is a streamlined mechanism to promote competitive fitness of bacteria.

published proceedings

  • PLoS Genet

altmetric score

  • 89.3

author list (cited authors)

  • Stubbendieck, R. M., & Straight, P. D.

citation count

  • 40

complete list of authors

  • Stubbendieck, Reed M||Straight, Paul D

editor list (cited editors)

  • Burkholder, W. F.

publication date

  • January 2015