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Title: Synergistic epistasis enhances the co-operativity of mutualistic interspecies interactions

Early evolution of mutualism is characterized by big and predictable adaptive changes, including the specialization of interacting partners, such as through deleterious mutations in genes not required for metabolic cross-feeding. We sought to investigate whether these early mutations improve cooperativity by manifesting in synergistic epistasis between genomes of the mutually interacting species. Specifically, we have characterized evolutionary trajectories of syntrophic interactions ofDesulfovibrio vulgaris(Dv) withMethanococcus maripaludis(Mm) by longitudinally monitoring mutations accumulated over 1000 generations of nine independently evolved communities with analysis of the genotypic structure of one community down to the single-cell level. We discovered extensive parallelism across communities despite considerable variance in their evolutionary trajectories and the perseverance within many evolution lines of a rare lineage ofDvthat retained sulfate-respiration (SR+) capability, which is not required for metabolic cross-feeding. An in-depth investigation revealed that synergistic epistasis across pairings ofDvandMmgenotypes had enhanced cooperativity within SR− and SR+ assemblages, enabling their coexistence within the same community. Thus, our findings demonstrate that cooperativity of a mutualism can improve through synergistic epistasis between genomes of the interacting species, enabling the coexistence of mutualistic assemblages of generalists and their specialized variants.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
The ISME Journal
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 2233-2247
Nature Publishing Group
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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