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Competition among bacterial members of the same ecological niche is mediated by bacteriocins: antimicrobial peptides produced by bacterial species to kill other bacteria. Bacteriocins are also promising candidates for novel antimicrobials. Streptococcus pneumoniae (the "pneumococcus") is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide and a frequent colonizer of the human nasopharynx. Here, 14 newly discovered bacteriocin gene clusters were identified among >6,200 pneumococcal genomes. The molecular epidemiology of the bacteriocin clusters was investigated using a large global and historical pneumococcal dataset dating from 1916. These analyses revealed extraordinary bacteriocin diversity among pneumococci and the majority of bacteriocin clusters were also found in other streptococcal species. Genomic hotspots for the integration of different bacteriocin gene clusters were discovered. Experimentally, bacteriocin genes were transcriptionally active when the pneumococcus was under stress and when two strains were co-cultured in broth. These findings reveal much more diversity among bacterial defense mechanisms than previously appreciated, which fundamentally broaden our understanding of bacteriocins relative to intraspecies and interspecies nasopharyngeal competition and bacterial population structure.

Original publication




Journal article


Frontiers in Microbiology

Publication Date





Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.