Formation of phage lysis patterns and implications on co-propagation of phages and motile host bacteria
Scharf, Birgit E.
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Coexistence of bacteriophages, or phages, and their host bacteria plays an important role in maintaining the microbial communities. In natural environments with limited nutrients, motile bacteria can actively migrate towards locations of richer resources. Although phages are not motile themselves, they can infect motile bacterial hosts and spread in space via the hosts. Therefore, in a migrating microbial community coexistence of bacteria and phages implies their co-propagation in space. Here, we combine an experimental approach and mathematical modeling to explore how phages and their motile host bacteria coexist and co-propagate. When lytic phages encountered motile host bacteria in our experimental set up, a sector-shaped lysis zone formed. Our mathematical model indicates that local nutrient depletion and the resulting inhibition of proliferation and motility of bacteria and phages are the key to formation of the observed lysis pattern. The model further reveals the straight radial boundaries in the lysis pattern as a telltale sign for coexistence and co-propagation of bacteria and phages. Emergence of such a pattern, albeit insensitive to extrinsic factors, requires a balance between intrinsic biological properties of phages and bacteria, which likely results from coevolution of phages and bacteria. Author summary Coexistence of phages and their bacterial hosts is important for maintaining the microbial communities. In a migrating microbial community, coexistence between phages and host bacteria implies that they co-propagate in space. Here we report a novel phage lysis pattern that is indicative of this co-propagation. The corresponding mathematical model we developed highlights a crucial dependence of the lysis pattern and implied phage-bacteria co-propagation on intrinsic properties allowing proliferation and spatial spreading of the microbes. In contrast, extrinsic factors, such as overall nutrient level, do not influence phage-bacteria coexistence and co-propagation. Findings from this work have strong implications for dispersal of phages mediated by motile bacterial communities, which will provide scientific basis for the fast-growing applications of phages.