Many bacterial species that cannot sporulate, such as the model bacterium Escherichia coli, can nevertheless survive for years, following exhaustion of external resources, in a state termed long-term stationary phase (LTSP). Here we describe the dynamics of E. coli adaptation during the first three years spent under LTSP. We show that during this time, E. coli continuously adapts genetically through the accumulation of mutations. For nonmutator clones, the majority of mutations accumulated appear to be adaptive under LTSP, reflected in an extremely convergent pattern of mutation accumulation. Despite the rapid and convergent manner in which populations adapt under LTSP, they continue to harbor extensive genetic variation. The dynamics of evolution of mutation rates under LTSP are particularly interesting. The emergence of mutators affects overall mutation accumulation rates as well as the mutational spectra and the ultimate spectrum of adaptive alleles acquired under LTSP. With time, mutators can evolve even higher mutation rates through the acquisition of additional mutation rate-enhancing mutations. Different mutator and nonmutator clones within a single population and time point can display extreme variation in their mutation rates, resulting in differences in both the dynamics of adaptation and their associated deleterious burdens. Despite these differences, clones that vary greatly in their mutation rates tend to coexist within their populations for many years, under LTSP.
Bibliographical note© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.
- Adaptation, Biological/genetics
- Escherichia coli/physiology
- Evolution, Molecular
- Genetic Variation
- Selection, Genetic