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The phenotypic signature of adaptation to thermal stress in Escherichia coli.

  • Author(s): Hug, Shaun M;
  • Gaut, Brandon S
  • et al.

BACKGROUND:In the short-term, organisms acclimate to stress through phenotypic plasticity, but in the longer term they adapt to stress genetically. The mutations that accrue during adaptation may contribute to completely novel phenotypes, or they may instead act to restore the phenotype from a stressed to a pre-stress condition. To better understand the influence of evolution on the diversity and direction of phenotypic change, we used Biolog microarrays to assay 94 phenotypes of 115 Escherichia coli clones that had adapted to high temperature (42.2 °C). We also assayed these same phenotypes in the clones' ancestor under non-stress (37.0 °C) and stress (42.2 °C) conditions. We explored associations between Biolog phenotypes and genotypes, and we also investigated phenotypic differences between clones that have one of two adaptive genetic trajectories: one that is typified by mutations in the RNA polymerase β-subunit (rpoB) and another that is defined by mutations in the rho termination factor. RESULTS:Most (54 %) phenotypic variation was restorative, shifting the phenotype from the acclimated state back toward the unstressed state. Novel phenotypes were more rare, comprising between 5 and 18 % of informative phenotypic variation. Phenotypic variation associated statistically with genetic variation, demonstrating a genetic basis for phenotypic change. Finally, clones with rpoB mutations differed in phenotype from those with rho mutations, largely due to differences in chemical sensitivity. CONCLUSIONS:Our results contribute to previous observations showing that a major component of adaptation in microbial evolution experiments is toward restoration to the unstressed state. In addition, we found that a large deletion strongly affected phenotypic variation. Finally, we demonstrated that the two genetic trajectories leading to thermal adaptation encompass different phenotypes.

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