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Bacterial resistance to arsenic protects against protist killing

Hao, Xiuli; Li, Xuanji; Pal, Chandan; Hobman, Jon L.; Larsson, D.G. Joakim; Saquib, Quaiser; Alwathnani, Hend A.; Rosen, Barry P.; Zhu, Yong-Guan; Rensing, Christopher

Bacterial resistance to arsenic protects against protist killing Thumbnail


Xiuli Hao

Xuanji Li

Chandan Pal

Jon L. Hobman

D.G. Joakim Larsson

Quaiser Saquib

Hend A. Alwathnani

Barry P. Rosen

Yong-Guan Zhu

Christopher Rensing


Protists kill their bacterial prey using toxic metals such as copper. Here we hypothesize that the metalloid arsenic has a similar role. To test this hypothesis, we examined intracellular survival of Escherichia coli (E. coli) in the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum (D. discoideum). Deletion of the E. coli ars operon led to significantly lower intracellular survival compared to wild type E. coli. This suggests that protists use arsenic to poison bacterial cells in the phagosome, similar to their use of copper. In response to copper and arsenic poisoning by protists, there is selection for acquisition of arsenic and copper resistance genes in the bacterial prey to avoid killing. In agreement with this hypothesis, both copper and arsenic resistance determinants are widespread in many bacterial taxa and environments, and they are often found together on plasmids. A role for heavy metals and arsenic in the ancient predator–prey relationship between protists and bacteria could explain the widespread presence of metal resistance determinants in pristine environments.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 10, 2017
Online Publication Date Feb 16, 2017
Publication Date Apr 1, 2017
Deposit Date May 30, 2017
Publicly Available Date May 30, 2017
Journal BioMetals
Print ISSN 0966-0844
Electronic ISSN 1572-8773
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 30
Issue 2
Pages 307-311
Keywords Protist; Grazing; Arsenic
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information The final publication is available at Springer via


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