Lytic and temperate phage naturally coexist in a dynamic population model

Ofer Kimchi, Yigal Meir, Ned S. Wingreen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When phage infect their bacterial hosts, they may either lyse the cell and generate a burst of new phage, or lysogenize the bacterium, incorporating the phage genome into it. Phage lysis/lysogeny strategies are assumed to be highly optimized, with the optimal tradeoff depending on environmental conditions. However, in nature, phage of radically different lysis/lysogeny strategies coexist in the same environment, preying on the same bacteria. How can phage preying on the same bacteria coexist if one is more optimal than the other? Here, we address this conundrum within a modeling framework, simulating the population dynamics of communities of phage and their lysogens. We find that coexistence between phage of different lysis/lysogeny strategies is a natural outcome of chaotic population dynamics that arise within sufficiently diverse communities, which ensure no phage is able to absolutely dominate its competitors. Our results further suggest a bet-hedging mechanism at the level of the phage pan-genome, wherein obligate lytic (virulent) strains typically outcompete temperate strains, but also more readily fluctuate to extinction within a local community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberwrae093
JournalISME Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • coexistence
  • ecology
  • lysogen
  • lytic
  • model
  • phage
  • temperate
  • virulent


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