Phenotypic plasticity as an adaptation to a functional trade-off

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5 Scopus citations


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)
StatePublished - Oct 3 2016


  • E. coli
  • adaptive landscape
  • evolutionary biology
  • genomics
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • trade-off

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