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.
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