Density-dependent adaptive resistance allows swimming bacteria to colonize an antibiotic gradient

Felix J H Hol, Bert Hubert, Cees Dekker, J.E. Keymer Vergara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
55 Downloads (Pure)


During antibiotic treatment, antibiotic concentration gradients develop. Little is know regarding the effects of antibiotic gradients on populations of nonresistant bacteria. Using a microfluidic device, we show that high-density motile Escherichia coli populations composed of nonresistant bacteria can, unexpectedly, colonize environments where a lethal concentration of the antibiotic kanamycin is present. Colonizing bacteria establish an adaptively resistant population, which remains viable for over 24 h while exposed to the antibiotic. Quantitative analysis of multiple colonization events shows that collectively swimming bacteria need to exceed a critical population density in order to successfully colonize the antibiotic landscape. After colonization, bacteria are not dormant but show both growth and swimming motility under antibiotic stress. Our results highlight the importance of motility and population density in facilitating adaptive resistance, and indicate that adaptive resistance may be a first step to the emergence of genetically encoded resistance in landscapes of antibiotic gradients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-38
Number of pages9
JournalThe ISME Journal: multidisciplinary journal of microbial ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


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