Stable polymorphisms are commonly observed in experimental bacterial populations grown in homogeneous media. Evidence is accumulating that metabolic interactions might be the main mechanism underlying the emergence and maintenance of such polymorphisms. To date, however, attempts to model the evolution of bacterial polymorphism have not considered metabolism as a possible component of polymorphism maintenance. Here, we propose a simulation approach to model the evolution of selected polymorphisms in a bacterial population. Using recent knowledge of the relationship between bacterial fitness and metabolism, we build a simple metabolic model and test the effect of resource competition on polymorphism. Without making an a priori hypothesis on fitness functions, we show that stable polymorphic situations could be observed under high nutrient competition, and we propose a functional, metabolism-based explanation to the debated issue of polymorphism maintenance.
Corresponding Editor: H. Ochman