Spiteful interactions between sympatric natural isolates ofXenorhabdus bovieniibenefit kin and reduce virulence

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Spite occurs when an individual harms itself in the act of harming others. Spiteful behaviour may be more pervasive in nature than commonly thought. One of the clearest examples of spite is the costly production and release of bacteriocins, antimicrobial toxins noted for their ability to kill conspecifics. A key question is to what extent these toxins provide a fitness advantage to kin of the producer cell, especially in natural communities. Additionally, when bacteria are involved in parasitic relationships, spiteful interactions are predicted to lower bacterial densities within a host, causing a reduction in parasite-induced virulence. Using five sympatric, field-collected genotypes of the insect pathogen Xenorhabdus bovienii, we experimentally demonstrate that bacteriocin production benefits kin within the host, and that it slows the mortality rate of the host. These results confirm that spite among naturally coexisting bacterial clones can be a successful kin-selected strategy that has emergent effects on virulence.

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