Repression/depression of conjugative plasmids and their influence on the mutation-selection balance in static environments

Yoav Raz, Emmanuel David Tannenbaum

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6 Scopus citations


We study the effect that conjugation-mediated Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT) has on the mutation-selection balance of a population in a static environment. We consider a model whereby a population of unicellular organisms, capable of conjugation, comes to mutation-selection balance in the presence of an antibiotic, which induces a first-order death rate constant κD for genomes that are not resistant. We explicitly take into consideration the repression/de-repression dynamics of the conjugative plasmid, and assume that a de-repressed plasmid remains temporarily de-repressed after copying itself into another cell. We assume that both repression and de-repression are characterized by first-order rate constants k+- and k-+, respectively. We find that conjugation has a deleterious effect on the mean fitness of the population, suggesting that HGT does not provide a selective advantage in a static environment, but is rather only useful for adapting to new environments. This effect can be ameliorated by repression, suggesting that while HGT is not necessarily advantageous for a population in a static environment, its deleterious effect on the mean fitness can be negated via repression. Therefore, it is likely that HGT is much more advantageous in a dynamic landscape. Furthermore, in the limiting case of a vanishing spontaneous de-repression rate constant, we find that the fraction of conjugators in the population undergoes a phase transition as a function of population density. Below a critical population density, the fraction of conjugators is zero, while above this critical population density the fraction of conjugators rises continuously to one. Our model for conjugation-mediated HGT is related to models of infectious disease dynamics, where the conjugators play the role of the infected (I) class, and the non-conjugators play the role of the susceptible (S) class.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere96839
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
StatePublished - 8 May 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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