ABSTRACT

In natural environments, bacteria survive conditions of starvation and stress. Long-term batch cultures are an excellent laboratory system to study adaptation during nutrient stress because cells can incubate for months to years without the addition of nutrients. During long-term batch culture, cells adapt to acquire energy from cellular detritus, creating a complex and dynamic environment for mutants of increased relative fitness to exploit. Here, we analyzed the genomes of 1,117 clones isolated from a single long-term batch culture incubated for 1,200 days. A total of 679 mutations included single nucleotide polymorphisms, indels, mobile genetic element movement, large deletions up to 64 kbp, and amplifications up to ∼500 kbp. During the 3.3-year incubation, two main lineages diverged, evolving continuously. At least twice, a previously fixed mutation reverted back to the wild-type allele, suggesting beneficial mutations may later become maladaptive due to the dynamic environment and changing selective pressures. Most of the mutated genes encode proteins involved in metabolism, transport, or transcriptional regulation. Clones from the two lineages are physiologically distinct, based on outgrowth in fresh medium and competition against the parental strain. Similar population dynamics and mutations in hfqrpoSpaaXlrpsdhB, and dtpA were detected in three additional parallel populations sequenced through day 60, providing evidence for positive selection. These data provide new insight into the population structure and mutations that may be beneficial during periods of starvation in evolving bacterial communities.

 

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