Culture history and population heterogeneity as determinants of bacterial adaptation: the adaptomics of a single environmental transition

Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 2012 Sep;76(3):597-625. doi: 10.1128/MMBR.05028-11.


Diversity in adaptive responses is common within species and populations, especially when the heterogeneity of the frequently large populations found in environments is considered. By focusing on events in a single clonal population undergoing a single transition, we discuss how environmental cues and changes in growth rate initiate a multiplicity of adaptive pathways. Adaptation is a comprehensive process, and stochastic, regulatory, epigenetic, and mutational changes can contribute to fitness and overlap in timing and frequency. We identify culture history as a major determinant of both regulatory adaptations and microevolutionary change. Population history before a transition determines heterogeneities due to errors in translation, stochastic differences in regulation, the presence of aged, damaged, cheating, or dormant cells, and variations in intracellular metabolite or regulator concentrations. It matters whether bacteria come from dense, slow-growing, stressed, or structured states. Genotypic adaptations are history dependent due to variations in mutation supply, contingency gene changes, phase variation, lateral gene transfer, and genome amplifications. Phenotypic adaptations underpin genotypic changes in situations such as stress-induced mutagenesis or prophage induction or in biofilms to give a continuum of adaptive possibilities. Evolutionary selection additionally provides diverse adaptive outcomes in a single transition and generally does not result in single fitter types. The totality of heterogeneities in an adapting population increases the chance that at least some individuals meet immediate or future challenges. However, heterogeneity complicates the adaptomics of single transitions, and we propose that subpopulations will need to be integrated into future population biology and systems biology predictions of bacterial behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Culture Media
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Phenotype


  • Culture Media