Bottleneck size and selection level reproducibly impact evolution of antibiotic resistance.


Niels Mahrt, Alexandra Tietze, Sven Künzel, Sören Franzenburg, Camilo Barbosa, Gunther Jansen, Hinrich Schulenburg

Year of publication



Nat Ecol Evol







Impact factor



During antibiotic treatment, the evolution of bacterial pathogens is fundamentally affected by bottlenecks and varying selection levels imposed by the drugs. Bottlenecks-that is, reductions in bacterial population size-lead to an increased influence of random effects (genetic drift) during bacterial evolution, and varying antibiotic concentrations during treatment may favour distinct resistance variants. Both aspects influence the process of bacterial evolution during antibiotic therapy and thereby treatment outcome. Surprisingly, the joint influence of these interconnected factors on the evolution of antibiotic resistance remains largely unexplored. Here we combine evolution experiments with genomic and genetic analyses to demonstrate that bottleneck size and antibiotic-induced selection reproducibly impact the evolutionary path to resistance in pathogenic Pseudomonas aeruginosa, one of the most problematic opportunistic human pathogens. Resistance is favoured-expectedly-under high antibiotic selection and weak bottlenecks, but-unexpectedly-also under low antibiotic selection and severe bottlenecks. The latter is likely to result from a reduced probability of losing favourable variants through drift under weak selection. Moreover, the absence of high resistance under low selection and weak bottlenecks is caused by the spread of low-resistance variants with high competitive fitness under these conditions. We conclude that bottlenecks, in combination with drug-induced selection, are currently neglected key determinants of pathogen evolution and outcome of antibiotic treatment.