Symbiont evolution during the free-living phase can improve host colonization

William Soto, Michael Travisano, Alexandra Rose Tolleson, Michele Kiyoko Nishiguchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


For micro-organisms cycling between free-living and host-associated stages, where reproduction occurs in both of these lifestyles, an interesting inquiry is whether evolution during the free-living stage can be positively pleiotropic to microbial fitness in a host environment. To address this topic, the squid host Euprymna tasmanica and the marine bioluminescent bacterium Vibrio fischeri were utilized. Microbial ecological diversification in static liquid microcosms was used to simulate symbiont evolution during the free-living stage. Thirteen genetically distinct V. fischeri strains from a broad diversity of ecological sources (e.g. squid light organs, fish light organs and seawater) were examined to see if the results were reproducible in many different genetic settings. Genetic backgrounds that are closely related can be predisposed to considerable differences in how they respond to similar selection pressures. For all strains examined, new mutations with striking and facilitating effects on host colonization arose quickly during microbial evolution in the free-living stage, regardless of the ecological context under consideration for a strain’s genetic background. Microbial evolution outside a host environment promoted host range expansion, improved host colonization for a micro-organism, and diminished the negative correlation between biofilm formation and motility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number000756
Pages (from-to)174-187
Number of pages14
JournalMicrobiology (United Kingdom)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Microbiology Society. All rights reserved.


  • Bioluminescence
  • Ecological diversification
  • Host-microbe interactions
  • Symbiosis


Dive into the research topics of 'Symbiont evolution during the free-living phase can improve host colonization'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this