Published on Sat Jul 17 2021

A subcellular biochemical model for T6SS dynamics reveals winning competitive strategies

Lin, Y. L., Smith, S. N., Kanso, E., Septer, A. N., Rycroft, C. H.

The Type VI secretion system (T6SS) is a broadly distributed interbacterial weapon that can be used to eliminate competing bacterial populations. We found that a tipping point exists where the cost of building more T6SS weapons outweighs their protective ability.

3
3
4
Abstract

The Type VI secretion system (T6SS) is a broadly distributed interbacterial weapon that can be used to eliminate competing bacterial populations. Although unarmed target populations are typically used to study T6SS function, bacteria most likely encounter other T6SS-armed competitors in nature. The outcome of such battles is not well understood, neither is the connection between the outcomes with the subcellular details of the T6SS. Here, we incorporated new biological data derived from natural competitors of Vibrio fischeri light organ symbionts to build a biochemical model for T6SS function at the single cell level. The model accounts for activation of structure formation, structure assembly, and deployment. By developing an integrated agent-based model (IABM) that incorporates strain-specific T6SS parameters, we replicated outcomes of biological competitions, validating our approach. We used the IABM to isolate and manipulate strain-specific physiological differences between competitors, in a way that is not possible using biological samples, to identify winning strategies for T6SS-armed populations. We found that a tipping point exists where the cost of building more T6SS weapons outweighs their protective ability. Furthermore, we found that competitions between a T6SS-armed population and a unarmed target had different outcomes dependent on the geometry of the battlefield: target cells survived at the edges of a range expansion scenario where unlimited territory could be claimed, while competitions within a confined space, much like the light organ crypts where natural V. fischeri compete, resulted in the rapid elimination of the unarmed competitor.