Pervasive compensatory adaptation in Escherichia coli

Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Mar 7;267(1442):515-22. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2000.1030.


To investigate compensatory adaptation (CA), we used genotypes of Escherichia coli which were identical except for one or two deleterious mutations. We compared CA for (i) deleterious mutations with large versus small effects, (ii) genotypes carrying one versus two mutations, and (iii) pairs of deleterious mutations which interact in a multiplicative versus synergistic fashion. In all, we studied 14 different genotypes, plus a control strain which was not mutated. Most genotypes showed CA during 200 generations of experimental evolution, where we define CA as a fitness increase which is disproportionately large relative to that in evolving control lines, coupled with retention of the original deleterious mutation(s). We observed greater CA for mutations of large effect than for those of small effect, which can be explained by the greater benefit to recovery in severely handicapped genotypes given the dynamics of selection. The rates of CA were similar for double and single mutants whose initial fitnesses were approximately equal. CA was faster for synergistic than for multiplicative pairs, presumably because the marginal gain which results from CA for one of the component mutations is greater in that case. The most surprising result in our view, is that compensation should be so readily achieved in an organism which is haploid and has little genetic redundancy This finding suggests a degree of versatility in the E. coil genome which demands further study from both genetic and physiological perspectives.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Culture Media
  • Epistasis, Genetic
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / physiology*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genotype
  • Mutation*
  • Selection, Genetic


  • Culture Media