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Bacteria eliminate competitors via 'chemical warfare' with bacteriocins. Some species appear to adjust bacteriocin production conditionally in response to the social environment. We tested whether variation in the cost and benefit of producing bacteriocins could explain such conditional behaviour, in the bacteria Lactobacillus plantarum. We found that: (1) bacterial bacteriocin production could be upregulated by either the addition of a synthetic autoinducer peptide (PLNC8IF; signalling molecule), or by a plasmid which constitutively encodes for the production of this peptide; (2) bacteriocin production is costly, leading to reduced growth when grown in poor and, to a lesser extent, in rich media; (3) bacteriocin production provides a fitness advantage, when grown in competition with sensitive strains; (4) the fitness benefits provided by bacteriocin production is greater at higher cell densities. These results show how the costs and benefits of upregulating bacteriocin production can depend upon abiotic and biotic conditions.

Original publication




Journal article


J Evol Biol

Publication Date



Bacteriocins, Benefits, Costs, Fitness, Quorum sensing