Environmental tuning of mutation rates

Environ Microbiol. 2006 Feb;8(2):193-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2005.00968.x.


Through their life cycles, bacteria experience many different environments in which the relationship between available energy resources and the frequency and the nature of various stresses is highly variable. In order to survive in such changeable environments, bacteria must balance the need for nutritional competence with stress resistance. In Escherichia coli natural populations, this is most frequently achieved by changing the regulation of the RpoS sigma factor-dependent general stress response. One important secondary consequence of altered regulation of the RpoS regulon is the modification of mutation rates. For example, under nutrient limitation during stationary phase, the high intracellular concentration of RpoS diminishes nutritional competence, increases stress resistance, and, by downregulating the mismatch repair system and upregulating [corrected] the expression of the dinB gene (coding for PolIV translesion synthesis polymerase) increases mutation rates. The reduction of the intracellular concentration of RpoS has exactly opposite effects on nutritional competence, stress resistance and mutation rates. Therefore, the natural selection that favours variants having the highest fitness under different environmental conditions results in high variability of stress-associated mutation rates in those variants.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • DNA Polymerase beta / genetics
  • DNA Polymerase beta / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Mutation*
  • Oxidative Stress / genetics*
  • Regulon / genetics
  • Sigma Factor / genetics
  • Sigma Factor / metabolism


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Sigma Factor
  • sigma factor KatF protein, Bacteria
  • DNA Polymerase beta