1. Ecology
  2. Evolutionary Biology
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CRISPR-based herd immunity can limit phage epidemics in bacterial populations

  1. Pavel Payne  Is a corresponding author
  2. Lukas Geyrhofer
  3. Nicholas H Barton
  4. Jonathan P Bollback  Is a corresponding author
  1. University of Liverpool, United Kingdom
  2. Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Israel
  3. Institute of Science and Technology Austria, Austria
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2018;7:e32035 doi: 10.7554/eLife.32035


Herd immunity, a process in which resistant individuals limit the spread of a pathogen among susceptible hosts has been extensively studied in eukaryotes. Even though bacteria have evolved multiple immune systems against their phage pathogens, herd immunity in bacteria remains unexplored. Here we experimentally demonstrate that herd immunity arises during phage epidemics in structured and unstructured Escherichia coli populations consisting of differing frequencies of susceptible and resistant cells harboring CRISPR immunity. In addition, we develop a mathematical model that quantifies how herd immunity is affected by spatial population structure, bacterial growth rate, and phage replication rate. Using our model we infer a general epidemiological rule describing the relative speed of an epidemic in partially resistant spatially structured populations. Our experimental and theoretical findings indicate that herd immunity may be important in bacterial communities, allowing for stable coexistence of bacteria and their phages and the maintenance of polymorphism in bacterial immunity.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Pavel Payne

    Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-2711-9453
  2. Lukas Geyrhofer

    Department of Chemical Engineering, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Nicholas H Barton

    Institute of Science and Technology Austria, Klosterneuburg, Austria
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. Jonathan P Bollback

    Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-4624-4612


H2020 European Research Council (EVOLHGT No. 648440)

  • Jonathan P Bollback

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Richard A Neher, University of Basel, Switzerland

Publication history

  1. Received: October 7, 2017
  2. Accepted: March 8, 2018
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: March 9, 2018 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: April 27, 2018 (version 2)
  5. Version of Record updated: June 11, 2018 (version 3)


© 2018, Payne et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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