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Keywords:

  • mutL;
  • mutability;
  • Salmonella;
  • evolution;
  • genetic switch

Abstract

Bacterial adaptation to changing environments can be achieved through the acquisition of genetic novelty by accumulation of mutations and recombination of laterally transferred genes into the genome, but the mismatch repair (MMR) system strongly inhibits both these types of genetic changes. As mutation and recombination do occur in bacteria, it is of interest to understand how genetic novelty may be achieved in the presence of MMR. Previously, we observed associations of a defective MMR genotype, 6bpΔmutL, with greatly elevated bacterial mutability in Salmonella typhimurium. To validate these observations, we experimentally converted the mutL gene between the wild-type and 6bpΔmutL in S. typhimurium and inspected the bacterial mutability status. When 6bpΔmutL was converted to mutL, the originally highly mutable Salmonella strains regained genetic stability; when mutL was converted to 6bpΔmutL, the mutability was elevated 100-fold. Interestingly, mutL cells were found to grow out of 6bpΔmutL cells; the new mutL cells eventually replaced the original 6bpΔmutL population. As conversion between mutL and 6bpΔmutL may occur readily during DNA replication, it may represent a previously unrecognized mechanism to modulate bacterial mutability at the population level, allowing bacteria to respond rapidly to changing environments while minimizing the risks associated with persistent hypermutability.