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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 10, 2024
  2. Abstract

    Possessing only essential genes, a minimal cell can reveal mechanisms and processes that are critical for the persistence and stability of life1,2. Here we report on how an engineered minimal cell3,4contends with the forces of evolution compared with theMycoplasma mycoidesnon-minimal cell from which it was synthetically derived. Mutation rates were the highest among all reported bacteria, but were not affected by genome minimization. Genome streamlining was costly, leading to a decrease in fitness of greater than 50%, but this deficit was regained during 2,000 generations of evolution. Despite selection acting on distinct genetic targets, increases in the maximum growth rate of the synthetic cells were comparable. Moreover, when performance was assessed by relative fitness, the minimal cell evolved 39% faster than the non-minimal cell. The only apparent constraint involved the evolution of cell size. The size of the non-minimal cell increased by 80%, whereas the minimal cell remained the same. This pattern reflected epistatic effects of mutations inftsZ, which encodes a tubulin-homologue protein that regulates cell division and morphology5,6. Our findings demonstrate that natural selection can rapidly increase the fitness of one of the simplest autonomously growing organisms. Understanding how species with small genomes overcome evolutionary challenges provides critical insights into the persistence of host-associated endosymbionts, the stability of streamlined chassis for biotechnology and the targeted refinement of synthetically engineered cells2,7–9.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 3, 2024
  3. Imperiale, Michael J. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT By entering a reversible state of reduced metabolic activity, dormant microorganisms are able to tolerate suboptimal conditions that would otherwise reduce their fitness. Dormancy may also benefit bacteria by serving as a refuge from parasitic infections. Here, we focus on dormancy in the Bacillota , where endospore development is transcriptionally regulated by the expression of sigma factors. A disruption of this process could influence the survivorship or reproduction of phages that infect spore-forming hosts with implications for coevolutionary dynamics. We characterized the distribution of sigma factors in over 4,000 genomes of diverse phages capable of infecting hosts that span the bacterial domain. From this, we identified homologs of sporulation-specific sigma factors in phages that infect spore-forming hosts. Unlike sigma factors required for phage reproduction, we provide evidence that sporulation-like sigma factors are nonessential for lytic infection. However, when expressed in the spore-forming Bacillus subtilis , some of these phage-derived sigma factors can activate the bacterial sporulation gene network and lead to a reduction in spore yield. Our findings suggest that the acquisition of host-like transcriptional regulators may allow phages to manipulate a complex and ancient trait in one of the most abundant cell types on Earth. IMPORTANCE As obligate parasites, phages exert strong top-down pressure on host populations with eco-evolutionary implications for community dynamics and ecosystem functioning. The process of phage infection, however, is constrained by bottom-up processes that influence the energetic and nutritional status of susceptible hosts. Many phages have acquired auxiliary genes from bacteria, which can be used to exploit host metabolism with consequences for phage fitness. In this study, we demonstrate that phages infecting spore-forming bacteria carry homologs of sigma factors, which their hosts use to orchestrate gene expression during spore development. By tapping into regulatory gene networks, phages may manipulate the physiology and survival strategies of nongrowing bacteria in ways that influence host-parasite coevolution. 
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