Adaptations accumulated under prolonged resource exhaustion are highly transient

Sarit Avrani, Sophia Katz, Ruth Hershberg

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Many nonsporulating bacterial species can survive for years within exhausted growth media in a state termed long-term stationary phase (LTSP). We have been carrying out evolutionary experiments aimed at elucidating the dynamics of genetic adaptation under LTSP. We showed that Escherichia coli adapts to prolonged resource exhaustion through the highly convergent acquisition of mutations. In the most striking example of such convergent adaptation, we observed that across all independently evolving LTSP populations, over 90% of E. coli cells carry mutations to one of three specific sites of the RNA polymerase core enzyme (RNAPC). These LTSP adaptations reduce the ability of the cells carrying them to grow once fresh resources are again provided. Here, we examine how LTSP populations recover from costs associated with their adaptation once resources are again provided to them. We demonstrate that due to the ability of LTSP populations to maintain high levels of standing genetic variation during adaptation, costly adaptations are very rapidly purged from the population once they are provided with fresh resources. We further demonstrate that recovery from costs acquired during adaptation under LTSP occurs more rapidly than would be possible if LTSP adaptations had fixed during the time populations spent under resource exhaustion. Finally, we previously reported that under LTSP, some clones develop a mutator phenotype, greatly increasing their mutation accumulation rates. Here, we show that the mechanisms by which populations recover from costs associated with fixed adaptations may depend on mutator status. IMPORTANCE Many bacterial species can survive for decades under starvation, following the exhaustion of external growth resources. We have previously shown that bacteria genetically adapt under these conditions in a manner that reduces their ability to grow once resources again become available. Here, we study how populations that have been subject to very prolonged resource exhaustion recover from costs associated with their adaptation. We demonstrate that rapid adaptations acquired under prolonged starvation tend to be highly transient, rapidly reducing in frequency once bacteria are no longer starved. Our results shed light on the longerterm consequences of bacterial survival under prolonged starvation. More generally, these results may also be applicable to understanding longer-term consequences of rapid adaptation to additional conditions as well.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8820
Issue number4
StatePublished - 12 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by an ISF grant (no. 756/17, to R.H.) and by the Rappaport Family Institute for Research in the Medical Sciences (to R.H.). The described work was carried out in the Rachel & Menachem Mendelovitch Evolutionary Process of Mutation & Natural Selection Research Laboratory.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Avrani et al.


  • Bacterial evolution
  • LTSP
  • Long-term stationary phase
  • Mutators
  • Rapid adaptation
  • Soft sweeps

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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