The evolution of contact-dependent inhibition in non-growing populations of Escherichia coli

  • Lemonnier M
  • Levin B
  • Romeo T
 et al. 
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In the course of liquid culture, serial passage experiments with Escherichia coli K-12 bearing a mutator gene deletion (DeltamutS) we observed the evolution of strains that appeared to kill or inhibit the growth of the bacteria from where they were derived, their ancestors. We demonstrate that this inhibition occurs after the cells stop growing and requires physical contact between the evolved and ancestral bacteria. Thereby, it is referred to as stationary phase contact-dependent inhibition (SCDI). The evolution of this antagonistic relationship is not anticipated from existing theory and experiments of competition in mass (liquid) culture. Nevertheless, it occurred in the same way (parallel evolution) in the eight independent serial transfer cultures, through different single base substitutions in a gene in the glycogen synthesis pathway, glgC. We demonstrate that the observed mutations in glgC, which codes for ADP-glucose pyrophosphorylase, are responsible for both the ability of the evolved bacteria to inhibit or kill their ancestors and their immunity to that inhibition or killing. We present evidence that without additional evolution, mutator genes, or known mutations in glgC, other strains of E. coli K-12 are also capable of SCDI or sensitive to this inhibition. We interpret this, in part, as support for the generality of SCDI and also as suggesting that the glgC mutations responsible for the SCDI, which evolved in our experiments, may suppress the action of one or more genes responsible for the sensitivity of E. coli to SCDI. Using numerical solutions to a mathematical model and in vitro experiments, we explore the population dynamics of SCDI and postulate the conditions responsible for its evolution in mass culture. We conclude with a brief discussion of the potential ecological significance of SCDI and its possible utility for the development of antimicrobial agents, which unlike existing antibiotics, can kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria that are not growing.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Allelopathy
  • Escherichia coli
  • Glycogen
  • Mathematical models
  • Parallel evolution
  • Population biology

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  • Marc Lemonnier

  • Bruce R. Levin

  • Tony Romeo

  • Kim Garner

  • María Rosario Baquero

  • Jeff Mercante

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