Ecological speciation of bacteriophage lambda in allopatry and sympatry

Science. 2016 Dec 9;354(6317):1301-1304. doi: 10.1126/science.aai8446. Epub 2016 Nov 24.


Understanding the conditions that allow speciation to occur is difficult because most research has focused on either long-lived organisms or asexual microorganisms. We propagated bacteriophage λ, a virus with rapid generations and frequent recombination, on two Escherichia coli host genotypes that expressed either the LamB or OmpF receptor. When supplied with either single host (allopatry), phage λ improved its binding to the available receptor while losing its ability to use the alternative. When evolving on both hosts together (sympatry), the viruses split into two lineages with divergent receptor preferences. Although the level of divergence varied among replicates, some lineages evolved reproductive isolation via genetic incompatibilities. This outcome indicates that, under suitable conditions, allopatric and sympatric speciation can occur with similar ease.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / genetics*
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacteriophage lambda / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / virology
  • Genetic Speciation*
  • Porins / metabolism
  • Receptors, Virus / metabolism
  • Reproductive Isolation
  • Sympatry*
  • Virus Cultivation


  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • OmpF protein
  • Porins
  • Receptors, Virus
  • maltoporins

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.4qb79