skip to main content


Title: Recipient-Biased Competition for an Intracellularly Generated Cross-Fed Nutrient Is Required for Coexistence of Microbial Mutualists

ABSTRACT Many mutualistic microbial relationships are based on nutrient cross-feeding. Traditionally, cross-feeding is viewed as being unidirectional, from the producer to the recipient. This is likely true when a producer’s waste, such as a fermentation product, has value only for a recipient. However, in some cases the cross-fed nutrient holds value for both the producer and the recipient. In such cases, there is potential for nutrient reacquisition by producer cells in a population, leading to competition against recipients. Here, we investigated the consequences of interpartner competition for cross-fed nutrients on mutualism dynamics by using an anaerobic coculture pairing fermentative Escherichia coli and phototrophic Rhodopseudomonas palustris . In this coculture, E. coli excretes waste organic acids that provide a carbon source for R. palustris . In return, R. palustris cross-feeds E. coli ammonium (NH 4 + ), a compound that both species value. To explore the potential for interpartner competition, we first used a kinetic model to simulate cocultures with varied affinities for NH 4 + in each species. The model predicted that interpartner competition for NH 4 + could profoundly impact population dynamics. We then experimentally tested the predictions by culturing mutants lacking NH 4 + transporters in both NH 4 + competition assaysmore » and mutualistic cocultures. Both theoretical and experimental results indicated that the recipient must have a competitive advantage in acquiring cross-fed NH 4 + to sustain the mutualism. This recipient-biased competitive advantage is predicted to be crucial, particularly when the communally valuable nutrient is generated intracellularly. Thus, the very metabolites that form the basis for mutualistic cross-feeding can also be subject to competition between mutualistic partners. IMPORTANCE Mutualistic relationships, particularly those based on nutrient cross-feeding, promote stability of diverse ecosystems and drive global biogeochemical cycles. Cross-fed nutrients within these systems can be either waste products valued by only one partner or nutrients valued by both partners. Here, we explored how interpartner competition for a communally valuable cross-fed nutrient impacts mutualism dynamics. We discovered that mutualism stability necessitates that the recipient have a competitive advantage against the producer in obtaining the cross-fed nutrient, provided that the nutrient is generated intracellularly. We propose that the requirement for recipient-biased competition is a general rule for mutualistic coexistence based on the transfer of intracellularly generated, communally valuable resources.« less
; ; ; ;
Publication Date:
Grant/Contract Number:
Published Article
Journal Name:
mBio (Online)
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Name: mBio (Online); Journal Volume: 8; Journal Issue: 6; Related Information: CHORUS Timestamp: 2018-05-18 12:09:14; Journal ID: ISSN 2150-7511
American Society for Microbiology
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Biological and Environmental Research (BER) (SC-23)
Country of Publication:
United States
OSTI Identifier: