Phenotypic plasticity as an adaptation to a functional trade-off

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We report the evolution of a phenotypically plastic behavior that circumvents the hardwired trade-off that exists when resources are partitioned between growth and motility in Escherichia coli. We propagated cultures in a cyclical environment, alternating between growth up to carrying capacity and selection for chemotaxis. Initial adaptations boosted overall swimming speed at the expense of growth. The effect of the trade-off was subsequently eased through a change in behavior; while individual cells reduced motility during exponential growth, the faction of the population that was motile increased as the carrying capacity was approached. This plastic behavior was produced by a single amino acid replacement in FliA, a regulatory protein central to the chemotaxis network. Our results illustrate how phenotypic plasticity potentiates evolvability by opening up new regions of the adaptive landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere19307
Issue numberOCTOBER2016
StatePublished - Oct 3 2016


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