paper out: antibiotic production without significant costs

This blog aims to give colleagues, collaborators, students and anyone else who might be interested an overview of the research carried out in the coastal pathogens group.The most tangible output by scientists are their publications and every newly published paper with a coastal pathogen group members name on it we’ll highlight in a post. As we are just starting up, the first few papers will be about work done in our previous positions. Of course, the nice thing about (regular) blogging is that we can give updates on any stage of research, not only about the endproduct. Therefore also expect field trip reports, testing of equipment, discussion of ideas and preliminary data to be posted here.

I was lucky to be asked to be involved in a study headed by Paolina Garbeva, a colleague at the Netherlands Institute for Ecology. Paolina (amongst other things) studies antibiotic production by the common bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens. Everybody knows that we can use antibiotics to combat infections (although less and less so, but that problem is worth a post on it’s own) but it is probably less common knowledge that many antibiotics are derived from microbes. Almost all bacteria produce a range of toxic compounds to fight competitors in their natural habitats. There exists enormous variation in toxin production and also in resistance to toxins. A standard ecological explanation for this variation is that there must be a trade-off between the benefits of killing/resisting other strains and the costs of producing these compounds. Lots of research has focused on the costs of antibiotic resistance (for obvious medical reasons) but very little is known about the costs of producing toxins.

Pseudomonas fluorescens is a clever little bug that produces a toxin only when it encounters competing strains. However, when comparing Pseudomonas growth rate with or without inducing toxin production by competitor Pedobacter, no difference could be detected. So if chemical warfare does not seem to come at a detectable  metabolic cost, why not produce toxins all the time? One explanation could be that limiting toxin production helps prevent competitors to evolve resistance or even feeding on the antibiotics.

Garbeva P, Tyc O, Remus-Emsermann MNP, van der Wal A, Vos M, et al. (2011) No Apparent Costs for Facultative Antibiotic Production by the Soil Bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens Pf0-1. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27266. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027266

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2 Responses to paper out: antibiotic production without significant costs

  1. Robin Tecon says:

    Hi Michiel,
    I just stumbled on your blog from the PLoS ONE website where I was looking at Paolina’s paper. It’s a great idea to have a research blog! I started one myself in January (albeit more a general than a research blog), but I’m still unsure about the direction it will take. Anyway I’ll keep an eye on yours, it’ll be a nice way to stay informed about your research.
    (I also see that we follow the same blogs out there 🙂
    Best wishes!

    • Hi Robin,

      great that people are finding the blog. Still trying to find our style as well; we definitely need to write more on our science in addition to musings on pork scratchings and heavy metal! I’ll be sure to follow your blog!

      cheers, Michiel

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