Resolving the conflict between antibiotic production and rapid growth by recognition of peptidoglycan of susceptible competitors

Harsh Maan, Maxim Itkin, Sergey Malitsky, Jonathan Friedman, Ilana Kolodkin-Gal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Microbial communities employ a variety of complex strategies to compete successfully against competitors sharing their niche, with antibiotic production being a common strategy of aggression. Here, by systematic evaluation of four non-ribosomal peptides/polyketide (NRPs/PKS) antibiotics produced by Bacillus subtilis clade, we revealed that they acted synergistically to effectively eliminate phylogenetically distinct competitors. The production of these antibiotics came with a fitness cost manifested in growth inhibition, rendering their synthesis uneconomical when growing in proximity to a phylogenetically close species, carrying resistance against the same antibiotics. To resolve this conflict and ease the fitness cost, antibiotic production was only induced by the presence of a peptidoglycan cue from a sensitive competitor, a response mediated by the global regulator of cellular competence, ComA. These results experimentally demonstrate a general ecological concept – closely related communities are favoured during competition, due to compatibility in attack and defence mechanisms.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number431
Pages (from-to)431
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - 20 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Kolodkin-Gal lab is supported by the Israel Science Foundation grant number 119/ 16 and ISF-JSPS 184/20 and Israel Ministry of Science - Tashtiot (Infrastructures) -123402 in Life Sciences and Biomedical Sciences. I.K.G. is supported by the Angel-Faivovich Fund for Ecological Research, by an internal grant from the Estate of Albert Engleman and by a research grant from the Benoziyo Endowment Fund for the Advancement of Science and is a recipient of the Rowland and Sylvia Career Development Chair. We thank Dr. Orna Dahan, Dr. Alona Keren-Paz and Dr. Yaron Antebi (Dept. of Molecular Genetics) for their critical reading of our manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).

© 2022. The Author(s).


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents/biosynthesis
  • Bacillus subtilis/growth & development
  • Biosynthetic Pathways
  • Nucleotides/metabolism
  • Peptides/metabolism
  • Peptidoglycan/metabolism
  • Plankton/growth & development
  • Polyketides/metabolism
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic/genetics
  • Ribosomes/metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic


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