Coevolutionary arms races between bacteria and bacteriophage

J. S. Weitz, H. Hartman, Simon Asher Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

188 Scopus citations


We propose a computational and theoretical framework for analyzing rapid revolutionary dynamics of bacteriophage and bacteria in their ecological context. Bacteriophage enter host cells via membrane-bound surface receptors often responsible for nutrient uptake. As such, a selective pressure will exist for the bacteria to modify its receptor configuration and, in turn, for the phage to modify its tail fiber. A mathematical model of these trait adaptations is developed by using the framework of adaptive dynamics. Host strains differ in their efficiency of resource uptake and resistance to phage, whereas phage strains differ in their host preference for adsorption. We solve the evolutionary ecology model and find the conditions for revolutionary branching and relevant dimensionless parameters leading to distinct quasispecies. We confirm these calculations using stochastic Monte Carlo simulations of populations evolving in a chemostat with fixed washout rate and inflow resource density. We find that multiple quasispecies of bacteria and phage can coexist in a homogeneous medium with a single resource. When diversification occurs, quasispecies of phage adsorb effectively to only a limited subset of the total number of quasispecies of bacteria, i.e., functional differences between quasispecies arise endogenously within the evolutionary ecology framework. Finally, we discuss means to relate predictions of this model to experimental studies in the chemostat, using the model organisms Escherichia coli and the virulent strain of λ phage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9535-9540
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number27
StatePublished - Jul 5 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Adaptive dynamics
  • Chemostat
  • Coevolution
  • Diversification
  • Model


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