Understanding under which conditions conjugative plasmids encoding antibiotic resistance can invade bacterial communities in the gut is of particular interest to combat the spread of antibiotic resistance within and between animals and humans. We extended a one-compartment model of conjugation to a two-compartment model, to analyse how differences in plasmid dynamics in the gut lumen and at the gut wall affect the invasion of plasmids. We compared scenarios with one and two compartments, different migration rates between the lumen and wall compartments, and different population dynamics. We focused on the effect of attachment and detachment rates on plasmid dynamics, explicitly describing pair formation followed by plasmid transfer in the pairs. The parameter space allowing plasmid invasion in the one-compartment model is affected by plasmid costs and intrinsic conjugation rates of the transconjugant, but not by these characteristics of the donor. The parameter space allowing plasmid invasion in the two-compartment model is affected by attachment and detachment rates in the lumen and wall compartment, and by the bacterial density at the wall. The one- and two-compartment models predict the same parameter space for plasmid invasion if the conditions in both compartments are equal to the conditions in the one-compartment model. In contrast, the addition of the wall compartment widens the parameter space allowing invasion compared with the one-compartment model, if the density at the wall is higher than in the lumen, or if the attachment rate at the wall is high and the detachment rate at the wall is low. We also compared the pair-formation models with bulk-conjugation models that describe conjugation by instantaneous transfer of the plasmid at contact between cells, without explicitly describing pair formation. Our results show that pair-formation and bulk-conjugation models predict the same parameter space for plasmid invasion. From our simulations, we conclude that conditions at the gut wall should be taken into account to describe plasmid dynamics in the gut and that transconjugant characteristics rather than donor characteristics should be used to parameterize the models.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110937
Pages (from-to)1-11
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Early online date20 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jan 2022


  • Horizontal gene transfer
  • Mathematical modelling
  • Mating pair
  • Mucosal environment
  • Plasmid dynamics


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