Background: Predator-prey models for virus-host interactions predict that viruses will cause oscillations of microbial host densities due to an arms race between resistance and virulence. A new form of microbial resistance, CRISPRs (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) are a rapidly evolving, sequence-specific immunity mechanism in which a short piece of invading viral DNA is inserted into the host's chromosome, thereby rendering the host resistant to further infection. Few studies have linked this form of resistance to population dynamics in natural microbial populations.
Methodology/principal findings: We examined sequence diversity in 39 strains of the archeaon Sulfolobus islandicus from a single, isolated hot spring from Kamchatka, Russia to determine the effects of CRISPR immunity on microbial population dynamics. First, multiple housekeeping genetic markers identify a large clonal group of identical genotypes coexisting with a diverse set of rare genotypes. Second, the sequence-specific CRISPR spacer arrays split the large group of isolates into two very different groups and reveal extensive diversity and no evidence for dominance of a single clone within the population.
Conclusions/significance: The evenness of resistance genotypes found within this population of S. islandicus is indicative of a lack of strain dominance, in contrast to the prediction for a resistant strain in a simple predator-prey interaction. Based on evidence for the independent acquisition of resistant sequences, we hypothesize that CRISPR mediated clonal interference between resistant strains promotes and maintains diversity in this natural population.