Ecological memory preserves phage resistance mechanisms in bacteria

Antun Skanata, Edo Kussell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacterial defenses against phage, which include CRISPR-mediated immunity and other mechanisms, can carry substantial growth rate costs and can be rapidly lost when pathogens are eliminated. How bacteria preserve their molecular defenses despite their costs, in the face of variable pathogen levels and inter-strain competition, remains a major unsolved problem in evolutionary biology. Here, we present a multilevel model that incorporates biophysics of molecular binding, host-pathogen population dynamics, and ecological dynamics across a large number of independent territories. Using techniques of game theory and non-linear dynamical systems, we show that by maintaining a non-zero failure rate of defenses, hosts sustain sufficient levels of pathogen within an ecology to select against loss of the defense. This resistance switching strategy is evolutionarily stable, and provides a powerful evolutionary mechanism that maintains host-pathogen interactions, selects against cheater strains that avoid the costs of immunity, and enables co-evolutionary dynamics in a wide range of systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6817
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


Dive into the research topics of 'Ecological memory preserves phage resistance mechanisms in bacteria'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this