Evolutionary Stability of Salmonella Combat with the Gut Microbiota: How the Environment Fosters Heterogeneity in Exploitative and Interference Competition

Following ingestion, gastrointestinal pathogens compete against the gastrointestinal microbiota and overcome host immune defenses in order to cause infections. Besides employing direct killing mechanisms, the commensal microbiota occupies metabolic niches to outcompete invading pathogens. Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium (S. Typhimurium) uses several strategies to successfully colonize the gut and establish infection, of which an increasing number is based on phenotypic heterogeneity within the S. Typhimurium population. The utilization of myo-inositol (MI) and the production of colicin, confer a selective advantage over the microbiota in terms of exploitative and interference competition, respectively. In this review, we summarize the genetic basis underlying bistability of MI catabolism and colicin production. As demonstrated by single-cell analyses, a stochastic switch in the expression of the genes responsible for colicin production and MI degradation constitutes the heterogeneity of the two phenotypes. Both genetic systems are tightly regulated to avoid their expression under non-appropriate conditions and possible detrimental effects on bacterial fitness. Moreover, evolutionary mechanisms underlying formation and stability of these phenotypes in S. Typhimurium are discussed. We propose that both MI catabolism and colicin production create a bet-hedging strategy, which provides an adaptive benefit for S. Typhimurium in the fluctuating environment of the mammalian gut.



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