Environmental fluctuations do not select for increased variation or population-based resistance in Escherichia coli
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Little is known about the mechanisms that enable organisms to cope with unpredictable environments. To address this issue, we used replicate populations of Escherichia coli selected under complex, randomly changing environments. Under four novel stresses that had no known correlation with the selection environments, individual cells of the selected populations had significantly lower lag and greater yield compared to the controls. More importantly, there were no outliers in terms of growth, thus ruling out the evolution of population-based resistance. We also assayed the standing phenotypic variation of the selected populations, in terms of their growth on 94 different substrates. Contrary to expectations, there was no increase in the standing variation of the selected populations, nor was there any significant divergence from the ancestors. This suggested that the greater fitness in novel environments is brought about by selection at the level of the individuals, which restricts the suite of traits that can potentially evolve through this mechanism. Given that day-to-day climatic variability of the world is rising, these results have potential public health implications. Our results also underline the need for a very different kind of theoretical approach to study the effects of fluctuating environments.
KeywordsAntibiotic resistance evolvability experimental evolution neutral space standing variation
We thank Milind Watve, Yannis Michalakis and an unknown reviewer for helpful discussions and Madhur Mangalam for help with the single-cell assay. SK was supported by a Senior Research Fellowship from Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, India. This study was supported by a research grant from Department of Biotechnology, India, and internal funding from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune.
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