The enduring utility of continuous culturing in experimental evolution

Genomics. 2014 Dec;104(6 Pt A):399-405. doi: 10.1016/j.ygeno.2014.09.015. Epub 2014 Oct 2.


Studying evolution in the laboratory provides a means of understanding the processes, dynamics and outcomes of adaptive evolution in precisely controlled and readily replicated conditions. The advantages of experimental evolution are maximized when the selection is well defined, which enables linking genotype, phenotype and fitness. One means of maintaining a defined selection is continuous culturing: chemostats enable the study of adaptive evolution in constant nutrient-limited environments, whereas cells in turbidostats evolve in constant nutrient abundance. Although the experimental effort required for continuous culturing is considerable relative to the experimental simplicity of serial batch culture, the opposite is true of the environments they produce: continuous culturing results in simplified and invariant conditions whereas serially diluted batch cultures are complex and dynamic. The comparative simplicity of the selective environment that is unique to continuous culturing provides an ideal experimental system for addressing key questions in adaptive evolution.

Keywords: Chemostat; Continuous culture; Experimental evolution; Microbial evolution; Turbidostat.

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.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Animals
  • Batch Cell Culture Techniques / instrumentation
  • Batch Cell Culture Techniques / methods*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Fitness
  • Genotype
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype
  • Selection, Genetic