Stochastic establishment of β-lactam-resistant Escherichia coli mutants reveals conditions for collective resistance

Manja Saebelfeld, Suman G. Das, Arno Hagenbeek, Joachim Krug, J.A.G.M. de Visser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


For antibiotic resistance to arise, new resistant mutants must establish in a bacterial population before they can spread via natural selection. Comprehending the stochastic factors that influence mutant establishment is crucial for a quantitative understanding of antibiotic resistance emergence. Here, we quantify the single-cell establishment probability of four Escherichia coli strains expressing β-lactamase alleles with different activity against the antibiotic cefotaxime, as a function of antibiotic concentration in both unstructured (liquid) and structured (agar) environments. We show that concentrations well below the minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) can substantially hamper establishment, particularly for highly resistant mutants. While the pattern of establishment suppression is comparable in both tested environments, we find greater variability in establishment probability on agar. Using a simple branching model, we investigate possible sources of this stochasticity, including environment-dependent lineage variability, but cannot reject other possible causes. Lastly, we use the single-cell establishment probability to predict each strain's MIC in the absence of social interactions. We observe substantially higher measured than predicted MIC values, particularly for highly resistant strains, which indicates cooperative effects among resistant cells at large cell numbers, such as in standard MIC assays.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20212486
Number of pages1
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1974
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2022


  • antibiotic resistance evolution
  • establishment probability
  • minimum inhibitory concentration
  • social interactions


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