Is bacterial persistence a social trait?

Andy Gardner*, Stuart A. West, Ashleigh S. Griffin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Citations (Scopus)


The ability of bacteria to evolve resistance to antibiotics has been much reported in recent years. It is less well-known that within populations of bacteria there are cells which are resistant due to a non-inherited phenotypic switch to a slow-growing state. Although such 'persister' cells are receiving increasing attention, the evolutionary forces involved have been relatively ignored. Persistence has a direct benefit to cells because it allows survival during catastrophes-a form of bet-hedging. However, persistence can also provide an indirect benefit to other individuals, because the reduced growth rate can reduce competition for limiting resources. This raises the possibility that persistence is a social trait, which can be influenced by kin selection. We develop a theoretical model to investigate the social consequences of persistence. We predict that selection for persistence is increased when: (a) cells are related (e. g. a single, clonal lineage); and (b) resources are scarce. Our model allows us to predict how the level of persistence should vary with time, across populations, in response to intervention strategies and the level of competition. More generally, our results clarify the links between persistence and other bet-hedging or social behaviours.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere752
Number of pages7
JournalPLoS One
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2007


  • Bacterial evolution
  • Kin selection
  • Bacterial persistence


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