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BMC Microbiology 2014, 14:328 doi:10.1186/s12866-014-0328-x


The social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum interacts with bacteria in a variety of ways. It is a predator of bacteria, can be infected or harmed by bacteria, and can form symbiotic associations with bacteria. Some clones of D. discoideum function as primitive farmers because they carry bacteria through the normally sterile D. discoideum social stage, then release them after dispersal so the bacteria can proliferate and be harvested. Some farmer-associated bacteria produce small molecules that promote host farmer growth but inhibit the growth of non-farmer competitors. To test whether the farmers’ tolerance is specific or extends to other growth inhibitory bacteria, we tested whether farmer and non-farmer amoebae are differentially affected by E. coli strains of varying pathogenicity. Because the numbers of each organism may influence the outcome of amoeba-bacteria interactions, we also examined the influence of amoeba and bacteria density on the ability of D. discoideum to grow and develop on distinct bacterial strains.

A subset of E. coli strains did not support amoeba proliferation on rich medium, independent of whether the amoebae were farmers or non-farmers. However, amoebae could proliferate on these strains if amoebae numbers are high relative to bacteria numbers, but again there was no difference in this ability between farmer and non-farmer clones of D. discoideum.

Our results show that farmer and non-farmers did not differ in their abilities to consume novel strains of E. coli, suggesting that farmer resistance to their own carried bacteria does not extend to foreign bacteria. We see that increasing the numbers of bacteria or amoebae increases their respective likelihood of competitive victory over the other, thus showing Allee effects. We hypothesize that higher bacteria numbers may result in higher concentrations of a toxic product or in a reduction of resources critical for amoeba survival, producing an environment inhospitable to amoeba predators. Greater amoeba numbers may counter this growth inhibition, possibly through reducing bacterial numbers via increased predation rates, or by producing something that neutralizes a potentially toxic bacterial product.


© 2014 DiSalvo et al.; licensee BioMed Central. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License

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Figure S1