Bacteriophages are a major cause of bacterial mortality and impose strong selection on natural bacterial populations, yet their effects on the dynamics of conjugative plasmids have rarely been tested. We combined experimental evolution, mathematical modeling, and individual-based simulations to explain how the ecological and population genetics effects of bacteriophages upon bacteria interact to determine the dynamics of conjugative plasmids and their persistence. The ecological effects of bacteriophages on bacteria are predicted to limit the existence conditions for conjugative plasmids, preventing persistence under weak selection for plasmid accessory traits. Experiments showed that phages drove faster extinction of plasmids in environments where the plasmid conferred no benefit, but they also revealed more complex effects of phages on plasmid dynamics under these conditions, specifically, the temporary maintenance of plasmids at fixation followed by rapid loss. We hypothesized that the population genetic effects of bacteriophages, specifically, selection for phage resistance mutations, may have caused this. Further mathematical modeling and individual-based simulations supported our hypothesis, showing that conjugative plasmids may hitchhike with phage resistance mutations in the bacterial chromosome.
Harrison, E., Wood, J. A., Dytham, C., Pitchford, J. W., Truman, J., Spiers, A. J., Paterson, S., & Brockhurst, M. A. (2015). Bacteriophages limit the existence conditions for conjugative plasmids. mBio, 6(3), [e00586-15]. https://doi.org/10.1128/mBio.00586-15