Genome-wide mutational diversity in an evolving population of Escherichia coli

Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biol. 2009;74:119-29. doi: 10.1101/sqb.2009.74.018. Epub 2009 Sep 23.


The level of genetic variation in a population is the result of a dynamic tension between evolutionary forces. Mutations create variation, certain frequency-dependent interactions may preserve diversity, and natural selection purges variation. New sequencing technologies offer unprecedented opportunities to discover and characterize the diversity present in evolving microbial populations on a whole-genome scale. By sequencing mixed-population samples, we have identified single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) present at various points in the history of an Escherichia coli population that has evolved for almost 20 years from a founding clone. With 50-fold genome coverage, we were able to catch beneficial mutations as they swept to fixation, discover contending beneficial alleles that were eliminated by clonal interference, and detect other minor variants possibly adapted to a new ecological niche. Additionally, there was a dramatic increase in genetic diversity late in the experiment after a mutator phenotype evolved. Still finer-resolution details of the structure of genetic variation and how it changes over time in microbial evolution experiments will enable new applications and quantitative tests of population genetic theory.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Databases, Nucleic Acid
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / physiology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Time Factors


  • DNA, Bacterial