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  1. Fluctuating environmental conditions are ubiquitous in natural systems, and populations have evolved various strategies to cope with such fluctuations. The particular mechanisms that evolve profoundly influence subsequent evolutionary dynamics. One such mechanism is phenotypic plasticity, which is the ability of a single genotype to produce alternate phenotypes in an environmentally dependent context. Here, we use digital organisms (self-replicating computer programs) to investigate how adaptive phenotypic plasticity alters evolutionary dynamics and influences evolutionary outcomes in cyclically changing environments. Specifically, we examined the evolutionary histories of both plastic populations and non-plastic populations to ask: (1) Does adaptive plasticity promote or constrain evolutionary change? (2) Are plastic populations better able to evolve and then maintain novel traits? And (3), how does adaptive plasticity affect the potential for maladaptive alleles to accumulate in evolving genomes? We find that populations with adaptive phenotypic plasticity undergo less evolutionary change than non-plastic populations, which must rely on genetic variation from de novo mutations to continuously readapt to environmental fluctuations. Indeed, the non-plastic populations undergo more frequent selective sweeps and accumulate many more genetic changes. We find that the repeated selective sweeps in non-plastic populations drive the loss of beneficial traits and accumulation of maladaptive alleles, whereas phenotypicmore »plasticity can stabilize populations against environmental fluctuations. This stabilization allows plastic populations to more easily retain novel adaptive traits than their non-plastic counterparts. In general, the evolution of adaptive phenotypic plasticity shifted evolutionary dynamics to be more similar to that of populations evolving in a static environment than to non-plastic populations evolving in an identical fluctuating environment. All natural environments subject populations to some form of change; our findings suggest that the stabilizing effect of phenotypic plasticity plays an important role in subsequent adaptive evolution.« less
  2. Brun, Yves V. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Bacteria adopt a wide variety of sizes and shapes, with many species exhibiting stereotypical morphologies. How morphology changes, and over what timescales, is less clear. Previous work examining cell morphology in an experiment with Escherichia coli showed that populations evolved larger cells and, in some cases, cells that were less rod-like. That experiment has now run for over two more decades. Meanwhile, genome sequence data are available for these populations, and new computational methods enable high-throughput microscopic analyses. In this study, we measured stationary-phase cell volumes for the ancestor and 12 populations at 2,000, 10,000, and 50,000 generations, including measurements during exponential growth at the last time point. We measured the distribution of cell volumes for each sample using a Coulter counter and microscopy, the latter of which also provided data on cell shape. Our data confirm the trend toward larger cells while also revealing substantial variation in size and shape across replicate populations. Most populations first evolved wider cells but later reverted to the ancestral length-to-width ratio. All but one population evolved mutations in rod shape maintenance genes. We also observed many ghost-like cells in the only population that evolved the novel ability to grow on citrate, supportingmore »the hypothesis that this lineage struggles with maintaining balanced growth. Lastly, we show that cell size and fitness remain correlated across 50,000 generations. Our results suggest that larger cells are beneficial in the experimental environment, while the reversion toward ancestral length-to-width ratios suggests partial compensation for the less favorable surface area-to-volume ratios of the evolved cells. IMPORTANCE Bacteria exhibit great morphological diversity, yet we have only a limited understanding of how their cell sizes and shapes evolve and of how these features affect organismal fitness. This knowledge gap reflects, in part, the paucity of the fossil record for bacteria. In this study, we revived and analyzed samples extending over 50,000 generations from 12 populations of experimentally evolving Escherichia coli to investigate the relation between cell size, shape, and fitness. Using this “frozen fossil record,” we show that all 12 populations evolved larger cells concomitant with increased fitness, with substantial heterogeneity in cell size and shape across the replicate lines. Our work demonstrates that cell morphology can readily evolve and diversify, even among populations living in identical environments.« less
  3. Zhang, George (Ed.)
    Abstract All organisms encode enzymes that replicate, maintain, pack, recombine, and repair their genetic material. For this reason, mutation rates and biases also evolve by mutation, variation, and natural selection. By examining metagenomic time series of the Lenski long-term evolution experiment (LTEE) with Escherichia coli (Good BH, McDonald MJ, Barrick JE, Lenski RE, Desai MM. 2017. The dynamics of molecular evolution over 60,000 generations. Nature 551(7678):45–50.), we find that local mutation rate variation has evolved during the LTEE. Each LTEE population has evolved idiosyncratic differences in their rates of point mutations, indels, and mobile element insertions, due to the fixation of various hypermutator and antimutator alleles. One LTEE population, called Ara+3, shows a strong, symmetric wave pattern in its density of point mutations, radiating from the origin of replication. This pattern is largely missing from the other LTEE populations, most of which evolved missense, indel, or structural mutations in topA, fis, and dusB—loci that all affect DNA topology. The distribution of mutations in those genes over time suggests epistasis and historical contingency in the evolution of DNA topology, which may have in turn affected local mutation rates. Overall, the replicate populations of the LTEE have largely diverged in their mutationmore »rates and biases, even though they have adapted to identical abiotic conditions.« less
  4. Evolutionary innovations allow populations to colonize new ecological niches. We previously reported that aerobic growth on citrate (Cit+) evolved in an Escherichia coli population during adaptation to a minimal glucose medium containing citrate (DM25). Cit+ variants can also grow in citrate-only medium (DM0), a novel environment for E. coli. To study adaptation to this niche, we founded two sets of Cit+ populations and evolved them for 2500 generations in DM0 or DM25. The evolved lineages acquired numerous parallel mutations, many mediated by transposable elements. Several also evolved amplifications of regions containing the maeA gene. Unexpectedly, some evolved populations and clones show apparent declines in fitness. We also found evidence of substantial cell death in Cit+ clones. Our results thus demonstrate rapid trait refinement and adaptation to the new citrate niche, while also suggesting a recalcitrant mismatch between E. coli physiology and growth on citrate.