Bacteriophage specificity is impacted by interactions between bacteria

Ave T. Bisesi, Wolfram Möbius, Carey D. Nadell, Eleanore G. Hansen, Steven D. Bowden, William R. Harcombe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Predators play a central role in shaping community structure, function, and stability. The degree to which bacteriophage predators (viruses that infect bacteria) evolve to be specialists with a single bacterial prey species versus generalists able to consume multiple types of prey has implications for their effect on microbial communities. The presence and abundance of multiple bacterial prey types can alter selection for phage generalists, but less is known about how interactions between prey shape predator specificity in microbial systems. Using a phenomenological mathematical model of phage and bacterial populations, we find that the dominant phage strategy depends on prey ecology. Given a fitness cost for generalism, generalist predators maintain an advantage when prey species compete, while specialists dominate when prey are obligately engaged in cross-feeding interactions. We test these predictions in a synthetic microbial community with interacting strains of Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica by competing a generalist T5-like phage able to infect both prey against P22vir, an S. enterica-specific phage. Our experimental data conform to our modeling expectations when prey species are competing or obligately mutualistic, although our results suggest that the in vitro cost of generalism is caused by a combination of biological mechanisms not anticipated in our model. Our work demonstrates that interactions between bacteria play a role in shaping ecological selection on predator specificity in obligately lytic bacteriophages and emphasizes the diversity of ways in which fitness trade-offs can manifest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2024 Bisesi et al.


  • bacteriophages
  • competition
  • microbial communities
  • microbial ecology
  • mutualism
  • virus-host interactions

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


Dive into the research topics of 'Bacteriophage specificity is impacted by interactions between bacteria'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this