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Phenotypic delay in the evolution of bacterial antibiotic resistance: mechanistic models and their implications

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Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1007930
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2020


Phenotypic delay – the time delay between genetic mutation and expression of the corresponding
phenotype – is generally neglected in evolutionary models, yet recent work suggests that it may be
more common than previously assumed. Here, we use computer simulations and theory to investigate the significance of phenotypic delay for the evolution of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. We consider three mechanisms which could potentially cause phenotypic delay: effective polyploidy, dilution of antibiotic-sensitive molecules and accumulation of resistance-enhancing molecules. We find that the accumulation of resistant molecules is relevant only within a narrow parameter range, but both the dilution of sensitive molecules and effective polyploidy can cause phenotypic delay over a wide range of parameters. We further investigate whether these mechanisms could affect population survival under drug treatment and thereby explain observed discrepancies in mutation rates estimated by Luria-Delbrück fluctuation tests. While the effective polyploidy mechanism does not affect population survival, the dilution of sensitive molecules leads both to decreased probability of survival under drug treatment and underestimation of mutation rates in fluctuation tests. The dilution mechanism also changes the shape of the Luria-Delbrück distribution of mutant numbers, and we show that this modified distribution provides an improved fit to previously published experimental data.

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