Plastic phenotypic resistance to predation by Bdellovibrio and like organisms in bacterial prey

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SummaryPredation at the lowest trophic level, i.e. between bacteria, is poorly understood, hindering efforts to assess its impact on the structure of bacterial communities. The interaction of Bdellovibrio and Bacteriovorax (Bdellovibrio and like organisms, BLOs), a group of obligate, ubiquitous predatory bacteria, with their Gram-negative bacterial prey results in the multiplication of the predator and in the lysis, but not in the eradication, of the prey. We show that the residual, surviving populations of prey cells exposed to predation stress differ from the populations before exposure, as they exhibit increased resistance to predation. This resistance was demonstrated in a number of Gram-negative prey. Moreover, predation resistance is not specific for the BLO strain experienced by the prey. The phenomenon does not stem from a mutation but is a plastic response associated with a phenotypic change, and it disappears upon removal of the predator. As resistance to predation is not total, this mechanism can ensure survival of both predator and prey.

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