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Adaptive mgl-regulatory mutations and genetic diversity evolving in glucose-limited Escherichia coli populations


Thomas Ferenci E-mail t.ferenci@microbio.usyd.; Tel. (+61) 2 9351 4277; Fax (+61) 2 9351 4571.


The mutational adaptation of E. coli to low glucose concentrations was studied in chemostats over 280 generations of growth. All members of six independent populations acquired increased fitness through the acquisition of mutations at the mgl locus, increasing the binding protein-dependent transport of glucose. These mutations provided a strong fitness advantage (up to 10-fold increase in glucose affinity) and were present in most isolates after 140 generations. mgl constitutivity in some isolates was caused by base substitution, short duplication, small deletion and IS1 insertion in the 1041 bp gene encoding the repressor of the mgl system, mglD (galS). But an unexpectedly large proportion of mutations were located in the short mgl operator sequence (mglO), and the majority of mutations were in mglO after 280 generations of selection. The adaptive mglO substitutions in several independent populations were at exactly the positions conserved in the two 8 bp half-sites of the mgl operator, with the nature of the base changes also completely symmetrical. Either mutations were directed to the operator or the particular operator mutations had a selective advantage under glucose limitation. Indeed, isolates carrying mglO mutations showed greater rates of transport for glucose and galactose at low concentrations than those carrying mglD null mutations. mglO mutations avoid cross-talk by members of the GalR–LacI repressor family, reducing transporter expression and providing a competitive advantage in a glucose-limited environment. Another interesting aspect of these results was that each adapted population acquired multiple mgl alleles, with several populations containing at least six different mgl-regulatory mutations co-existing after 200 generations. The diversity of mutations in the mglO/mglD region, generally in combination with mutations at other loci regulating glucose uptake (malT, mlc, ptsG), provided evidence for multiple clones in each population. Increased fitness was accompanied by the generation of genetic diversity and not the evolution of a single winner clone, as predicted by the periodic selection model of bacterial populations.

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