R-type bacteriocins of Xenorhabdus bovienii determine the outcome of interspecies competition in a natural host environment


Xenorhabdus species are bacterial symbionts of Steinernema nematodes and pathogens of susceptible insects. Different species of Steinernema nematodes carrying specific species of Xenorhabdus can invade the same insect, thereby setting up competition for nutrients within the insect environment. While Xenorhabdus species produce both diverse antibiotic compounds and prophage-derived R-type bacteriocins (xenorhabdicins), the functions of these molecules during competition in a host are not well understood. Xenorhabdus bovienii (Xb-Sj), the symbiont of Steinernema jollieti, possesses a remnant P2-like phage tail cluster, xbp1, that encodes genes for xenorhabdicin production. We show that inactivation of either tail sheath (xbpS1) or tail fibre (xbpH1) genes eliminated xenorhabdicin production. Preparations of Xb-Sj xenorhabdicin displayed a narrow spectrum of activity towards other Xenorhabdus and Photorhabdus species. One species, Xenorhabdus szentirmaii (Xsz-Sr), was highly sensitive to Xb-Sj xenorhabdicin but did not produce xenorhabdicin that was active against Xb-Sj. Instead, Xsz-Sr produced high-level antibiotic activity against Xb-Sj when grown in complex medium and lower levels when grown in defined medium (Grace's medium). Conversely, Xb-Sj did not produce detectable levels of antibiotic activity against Xsz-Sr. To study the relative contributions of Xb-Sj xenorhabdicin and Xsz-Sr antibiotics in interspecies competition in which the respective Xenorhabdus species produce antagonistic activities against each other, we co-inoculated cultures with both Xenorhabdus species. In both types of media Xsz-Sr outcompeted Xb-Sj, suggesting that antibiotics produced by Xsz-Sr determined the outcome of the competition. In contrast, Xb-Sj outcompeted Xsz-Sr in competitions performed by co-injection in the insect Manduca sexta, while in competition with the xenorhabdicin-deficient strain (Xb-Sj:S1), Xsz-Sr was dominant. Thus, xenorhabdicin was required for Xb-Sj to outcompete Xsz-Sr in a natural host environment. These results highlight the importance of studying the role of antagonistic compounds under natural biological conditions.

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