Background: In order to study the dynamics of evolutionary change, 12 populations of E. coli B were serially propagated for 20,000 generations in minimal glucose medium at constant 37 degrees C. Correlated changes in various other traits have been previously associated with the improvement in competitive fitness in the selective environment. This study examines whether these evolved lines changed in their ability to tolerate the stresses of prolonged freezing and repeated freeze-thaw cycles during adaptation to a benign environment.
Results: All 12 lines that evolved in the benign environment for 20,000 generations are more sensitive to freeze-thaw cycles than their ancestor. The evolved lines have an average mortality rate of 54% per daily cycle, compared to the ancestral rate of 34%. By contrast, there was no significant difference between the evolved lines and their ancestor in mortality during prolonged freezing. There was also some variability among the evolved lines in susceptibility to repeated freeze-thaw cycles. Those lines that had evolved higher competitive fitness in the minimal glucose medium at 37 degrees C also had higher mortality during freeze-thaw cycles. This variability was not associated, however, with differences among lines in DNA repair functionality and mutability.
Conclusion: The consistency of the evolutionary declines in freeze-thaw tolerance, the correlation between fitness in glucose medium at 37 degrees C and mortality during freeze-thaw cycles, and the absence of greater declines in freeze-thaw survival among the hypermutable lines all indicate a trade-off between performance in minimal glucose medium at 37 degrees C and the capacity to tolerate this stress. Analyses of the mutations that enhance fitness at 37 degrees C may shed light on the physiological basis of this trade-off.