To persist in microbial communities, the bacterial pathogen Legionella pneumophila must withstand competition from neighboring bacteria. Here, we find that L. pneumophila can antagonize the growth of other Legionella species using a secreted inhibitor: HGA (homogentisic acid). Unexpectedly, L. pneumophila can itself be inhibited by HGA secreted from neighboring, isogenic strains. Our genetic approaches further identify lpg1681 as a gene that modulates L. pneumophila susceptibility to HGA. We find that L. pneumophila sensitivity to HGA is density-dependent and cell intrinsic. This resistance is not mediated by the stringent response nor the previously described Legionella quorum-sensing pathway. Instead, L. pneumophila cells secrete HGA only when they are conditionally HGA-resistant, which allows these bacteria to produce a potentially self-toxic molecule while restricting the opportunity for self-harm. We propose that established Legionella communities may deploy molecules such as HGA as an unusual public good that can protect against invasion by low-density competitors.
- Tera C Levin
- Brian P Goldspiel
- Harmit S Malik
- Tera C Levin
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.
- Dianne K Newman, California Institute of Technology, United States
© 2019, Levin et al.
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