The population genetics of ecological specialization in evolving Escherichia coli populations

Nature. 2000 Oct 12;407(6805):736-9. doi: 10.1038/35037572.


When organisms adapt genetically to one environment, they may lose fitness in other environments. Two distinct population genetic processes can produce ecological specialization-mutation accumulation and antagonistic pleiotropy. In mutation accumulation, mutations become fixed by genetic drift in genes that are not maintained by selection; adaptation to one environment and loss of adaptation to another are caused by different mutations. Antagonistic pleiotropy arises from trade-offs, such that the same mutations that are beneficial in one environment are detrimental in another. In general, it is difficult to distinguish between these processes. We analysed the decay of unused catabolic functions in 12 lines of Escherichia coli propagated on glucose for 20,000 generations. During that time, several lines evolved high mutation rates. If mutation accumulation is important, their unused functions should decay more than the other lines, but no significant difference was observed. Moreover, most catabolic losses occurred early in the experiment when beneficial mutations were being rapidly fixed, a pattern predicted by antagonistic pleiotropy. Thus, antagonistic pleiotropy appears more important than mutation accumulation for the decay of unused catabolic functions in these populations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Ecology
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation


  • Glucose