Understanding how multiple stressors interact is needed to predict the dynamical outcomes of diverse biological systems, ranging from drug-resistant pathogens that are combated and treated with combination drug therapies to ecosystems impacted by environmental toxicants or disturbances. Nevertheless, extensive studies of higher-order (more than two component) interactions have been lacking. Here, we conduct experiments using 20 three-drug combinations and their effects on the bacterial growth of Escherichia coli. We report our measurements of growth rates in single, pairwise and triple-drug combinations. To uncover emergent interactions, we derive a simple framework to calculate expectations for three-way interactions based on the measured impact of each individual stressor and of each pairwise interaction. Using our framework, we find that (i) emergent antagonisms are more common than emergent synergies and (ii) emergent antagonisms are more common and emergent synergies are more rare than would be inferred from measures of net effects that do not disentangle pairwise interactions from three-way interactions.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3587075.
- Received October 3, 2016.
- Accepted November 23, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.