Slow and steady wins the race: A bacterial exploitative competition strategy in fluctuating environments

Junwen Mao, Andrew E. Blanchard, Ting Lu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One promising frontier for synthetic biology is the development of synthetic ecologies, whereby interacting species form an additional layer of connectivity for engineered gene circuits. Toward this goal, an important step is to understand different types of bacterial interactions in natural settings, among which competition is the most prevalent. By constructing a two-species population dynamics model, here, we mimicked bacterial growth in nature with resource-limited fluctuating environments and searched for optimal strategies for bacterial exploitative competition. In a simple game with two strategy options (constant or susceptible growth), we found that the species playing the constant growth strategy always outplays or is evenly matched with its competitor, suggesting that constant growth is a "no-loss" good bet. We also showed that adoption of sophisticated strategies enables a species to maximize its fitness when its competitor grows susceptibly. The pursuit of fitness maximization is, however, associated with potential loss if both species are capable of strategy adjustment, indicating an intrinsic risk-return trade-off. These findings offer new insights into bacterial competition and may also facilitate the engineering of microbial consortia for synthetic biology applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)240-248
Number of pages9
JournalACS synthetic biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 20 2015


  • bacterial exploitative competition
  • fluctuating environments
  • limited resources
  • risk and return
  • strategic games

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)


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