Evolution after introduction of a novel metabolic pathway consistently leads to restoration of wild-type physiology

PLoS Genet. 2013 Apr;9(4):e1003427. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003427. Epub 2013 Apr 4.


Organisms cope with physiological stressors through acclimatizing mechanisms in the short-term and adaptive mechanisms over evolutionary timescales. During adaptation to an environmental or genetic perturbation, beneficial mutations can generate numerous physiological changes: some will be novel with respect to prior physiological states, while others might either restore acclimatizing responses to a wild-type state, reinforce them further, or leave them unchanged. We examined the interplay of acclimatizing and adaptive responses at the level of global gene expression in Methylobacterium extorquens AM1 engineered with a novel central metabolism. Replacing central metabolism with a distinct, foreign pathway resulted in much slower growth than wild-type. After 600 generations of adaptation, however, eight replicate populations founded from this engineered ancestor had improved up to 2.5-fold. A comparison of global gene expression in wild-type, engineered, and all eight evolved strains revealed that the vast majority of changes during physiological adaptation effectively restored acclimatizing processes to wild-type expression states. On average, 93% of expression perturbations from the engineered strain were restored, with 70% of these occurring in perfect parallel across all eight replicate populations. Novel changes were common but typically restricted to one or a few lineages, and reinforcing changes were quite rare. Despite this, cases in which expression was novel or reinforced in parallel were enriched for loci harboring beneficial mutations. One case of parallel, reinforced changes was the pntAB transhydrogenase that uses NADH to reduce NADP(+) to NADPH. We show that PntAB activity was highly correlated with the restoration of NAD(H) and NADP(H) pools perturbed in the engineered strain to wild-type levels, and with improved growth. These results suggest that much of the evolved response to genetic perturbation was a consequence rather than a cause of adaptation and that physiology avoided "reinventing the wheel" by restoring acclimatizing processes to the pre-stressed state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization
  • Biological Evolution
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Deletion
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / genetics*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / physiology
  • Methylobacterium extorquens* / genetics
  • Methylobacterium extorquens* / growth & development
  • Methylobacterium extorquens* / physiology
  • Mutation
  • NADP Transhydrogenases / genetics
  • NADP Transhydrogenases / metabolism
  • Stress, Physiological / genetics*
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • NADP Transhydrogenases
  • pntA protein, E coli