Published on January 21, 2014 at 12:34 AM
In the experiment, researchers engineered E. coli to produce a toxin that, left to its own devices, would soon wipe out the entire colony of bacteria. But they also put in a genetic switch that could turn their fortunes around; if enough bacteria were present and the chemicals they use to signal one another reached a certain concentration, they would begin producing an antidote to the toxin. In this way, the bacteria were engineered to have a high Allee effect.
The researchers then tested how well the bacteria did with different dispersal rates. They plucked the bacteria from their original source wells and colonized new ones. Each trial consisted of a different number of target habitats, which affected the density of the new populations.
Just as theory predicted, the greatest success came when the dispersion rate stayed in a happy middle ground. Too few new colonies and the bacteria barely spread; too many and each floundered, including the original source.
The results also have important medical implications, according to You.
"People need to use caution when using antibiotics," said You. "Our bodies' natural microbes are in some ways the first line of defense against invaders, which can often stop an infection from gaining a foothold. But if we recklessly apply antibiotics, we may destroy these defenses and make it easier for just a few foreign bacteria to spread and grow. We may remove their Allee effect."
Source: Duke University