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Robustness of a model microbial community emerges from population structure among single cells of a clonal population.

  • Author(s): Thompson, Anne W;
  • Turkarslan, Serdar;
  • Arens, Christina E;
  • López García de Lomana, Adrián;
  • Raman, Arjun V;
  • Stahl, David A;
  • Baliga, Nitin S
  • et al.
Abstract

Microbial populations can withstand, overcome and persist in the face of environmental fluctuation. Previously, we demonstrated how conditional gene regulation in a fluctuating environment drives dilution of condition-specific transcripts, causing a population of Desulfovibrio vulgaris Hildenborough (DvH) to collapse after repeatedly transitioning from sulfate respiration to syntrophic conditions with the methanogen Methanococcus maripaludis. Failure of the DvH to successfully transition contributed to the collapse of this model community. We investigated the mechanistic basis for loss of robustness by examining whether conditional gene regulation altered heterogeneity in gene expression across individual DvH cells. We discovered that robustness of a microbial population across environmental transitions was attributable to the retention of cells in two states that exhibited different condition-specific gene expression patterns. In our experiments, a population with disrupted conditional regulation successfully alternated between cell states. Meanwhile, a population with intact conditional regulation successfully switched between cell states initially, but collapsed after repeated transitions, possibly due to the high energy requirements of regulation. These results demonstrate that the survival of this entire model microbial community is dependent on the regulatory system's influence on the distribution of distinct cell states among individual cells within a clonal population.

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