Phage tail-like bacteriocins (tailocins) are bacterially produced protein toxins that mediate competitive interactions between cocolonizing bacteria. Both theoretical and experimental research has shown there are intransitive interactions between bacteriocin-producing, bacteriocin-sensitive, and bacteriocin-resistant populations, whereby producers outcompete sensitive cells, sensitive cells outcompete resistant cells, and resistant cells outcompete producers. These so-called rock-paper-scissors dynamics explain how all three populations occupy the same environment, without one driving the others extinct. Using Pseudomonas syringae as a model, we demonstrate that otherwise sensitive cells survive bacteriocin exposure through a physiological mechanism. This mechanism allows cells to survive bacteriocin killing without acquiring resistance. We show that a significant fraction of the target cells that survive a lethal dose of tailocin did not exhibit any detectable increase in survival during a subsequent exposure. Tailocin persister cells were more prevalent in stationary- rather than log-phase cultures. Of the fraction of cells that gained detectable resistance, there was a range from complete (insensitive) to incomplete (partially sensitive) resistance. By using genomic sequencing and genetic engineering, we showed that a mutation in a hypothetical gene containing 8 to 10 transmembrane domains causes tailocin high persistence and that genes of various glycosyltransferases cause incomplete and complete tailocin resistance. Importantly, of the several classes of mutations, only those causing complete tailocin resistance compromised host fitness. This result indicates that bacteria likely utilize persistence to survive bacteriocin-mediated killing without suffering the costs associated with resistance. This research provides important insight into how bacteria can escape the trap of fitness trade-offs associated with gaining de novo tailocin resistance. IMPORTANCE Bacteriocins are bacterially produced protein toxins that are proposed as antibiotic alternatives. However, a deeper understanding of the responses of target bacteria to bacteriocin exposure is lacking. Here, we show that target cells of Pseudomonas syringae survive lethal bacteriocin exposure through both physiological persistence and genetic resistance mechanisms. Cells that are not growing rapidly rely primarily on persistence, whereas those growing rapidly are more likely to survive via resistance. We identified various mutations in lipopolysaccharide biogenesis-related regions involved in tailocin persistence and resistance. By assessing host fitness of various classes of mutants, we showed that persistence and subtle resistance are mechanisms P. syringae uses to survive competition and preserve host fitness. These results have important implications for developing bacteriocins as alternative therapeutic agents.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology