Prior observations of phage-host systems in vitro have led to the conclusion that susceptible host cell populations must reach a critical density before phage replication can occur. Such a replication threshold density would have broad implications for the therapeutic use of phage. In this report, we demonstrate experimentally that no such replication threshold exists and explain the previous data used to support the existence of the threshold in terms of a classical model of the kinetics of colloidal particle interactions in solution. This result leads us to conclude that the frequently used measure of multiplicity of infection (MOI), computed as the ratio of the number of phage to the number of cells, is generally inappropriate for situations in which cell concentrations are less than 10(7)/ml. In its place, we propose an alternative measure, MOI(actual), that takes into account the cell concentration and adsorption time. Properties of this function are elucidated that explain the demonstrated usefulness of MOI at high cell densities, as well as some unexpected consequences at low concentrations. In addition, the concept of MOI(actual) allows us to write simple formulas for computing practical quantities, such as the number of phage sufficient to infect 99.99% of host cells at arbitrary concentrations.
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