Fitness effects of mutations in bacteria

J Mol Microbiol Biotechnol. 2011;21(1-2):20-35. doi: 10.1159/000332747. Epub 2012 Jan 13.


Mutation is the primary source of variation in any organism. Without it, natural selection cannot operate and organisms cannot adapt to novel environments. Mutation is also generally a source of defect: many mutations are not neutral but cause fitness decreases in the organisms where they arise. In bacteria, another important source of variation is horizontal gene transfer. This source of variation can also cause beneficial or deleterious effects. Determining the distribution of fitness effects of mutations in different environments and genetic backgrounds is an active research field. In bacteria, knowledge of these distributions is key for understanding important traits. For example, for determining the dynamics of microorganisms with a high genomic mutation rate (mutators), and for understanding the evolution of antibiotic resistance, and the emergence of pathogenic traits. All of these characteristics are extremely relevant for human health both at the individual and population levels. Experimental evolution has been a valuable tool to address these questions. Here, we review some of the important findings of mutation effects in bacteria revealed through laboratory experiments.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological*
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacterial Infections / drug therapy
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Humans
  • Mutation*
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Stress, Physiological*