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- The evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of Escherichia coli : a tale of opportunity, contingency, and co-option
- Blount, Zachary David
- Electronic Theses & Dissertations
The importance of historical contingency in evolution has been extensively debated over the last few decades, but direct empirical tests have been rare. Twelve initially identical populations of
E. coliwere founded in 1988 to investigate this issue. They have since evolved for more than 50,000 generations in a glucose-limited medium that also contains a citrate. However, the inability to use citrate as a carbon source under oxic conditions is a species-defining trait of ...
Show moreThe importance of historical contingency in evolution has been extensively debated over the last few decades, but direct empirical tests have been rare. Twelve initially identical populations of
E. coliwere founded in 1988 to investigate this issue. They have since evolved for more than 50,000 generations in a glucose-limited medium that also contains a citrate. However, the inability to use citrate as a carbon source under oxic conditions is a species-defining trait of E. coli. A weakly Cit +variant capable of aerobic citrate utilization finally evolved in one population just prior to 31,500 generations. Shortly after 33,000 generations, the population experienced a several-fold expansion as strongly Cit +variants rose to numerical dominance (but not fixation). The Cit +trait was therefore a key innovation that increased both population size and diversity by opening a previously unexploited ecological opportunity.The long-delayed and unique evolution of the Cit +innovation might be explained by two possible hypotheses. First, evolution of the Cit +function may have required an extremely rare mutation. Alternately, the evolution of Cit +may have been contingent upon one or more earlier mutations that had accrued over the population's history. I tested these hypotheses in a series of experiments in which I "replayed" evolution from different points in the population's history. I observed no Cit +mutants among 8.4 x 10 12ancestral cells, nor among 9 x 10 12cells from 60 clones sampled in the first 15,000 generations. However, I observed a significantly greater tendency to evolve Cit +among later clones. These results indicate that one or more earlier mutations potentiated the evolution of Cit +by increasing the rate of mutation to Cit +to an accessible, though still very low, level. The evolution of the Cit +function was therefore contingent on the particular history of the population in which it occurred.I investigated the Cit +innovation's history and genetic basis by sequencing the genomes of 29 clones isolated from the population at various time points. Analysis of these genomes revealed that at least 3 distinct clades coexisted for more than 10,000 generations prior to the innovation's evolution. The Cit +trait originated in one clade by a tandem duplication that produced a new regulatory module in which a silent citrate transporter was placed under the control of an aerobically-expressed promoter. Subsequent increases in the copy number of this new regulatory module refined the initially weak Cit +phenotype, leading to the population expansion. The 3 clades varied in their propensity to evolve the novel Cit +function, though genotypes able to do so existed in all 3, implying that potentiation involved multiple mutations.My findings demonstrate that historical contingency can significantly impact evolution, even under the strictest of conditions. Moreover, they suggest that contingency plays an especially important role in the evolution of novel innovations that, like Cit +, require prior construction of a potentiating genetic background, and are thus not easily evolved by gradual, cumulative selection. Contingency may therefore have profoundly shaped life's evolution given the importance of evolutionary novelties in the history of life. Finally, the genetic basis of the Cit +function illustrates the importance of promoter capture and altered gene regulation in mediation the exaptation events that often underlie evolutionary innovations.