Evolutionary innovations are dependent on mutations. Mutation rates are increased by adverse conditions in the laboratory, but there is no evidence that stressful environments that do not directly impact on DNA leave a mutational imprint on extant genomes. Mutational spectra in the laboratory are normally determined with unstressed cells but are unavailable with stressed bacteria. To by-pass problems with viability, selection effects, and growth rate differences due to stressful environments, in this study we used a set of genetically engineered strains to identify the mutational spectrum associated with nutritional stress. The strain set members each had a fixed level of the master regulator protein, RpoS, which controls the general stress response of Escherichia coli. By assessing mutations in cycA gene from 485 cycloserine resistant mutants collected from as many independent cultures with three distinct perceived stress (RpoS) levels, we were able establish a dose-dependent relationship between stress and mutational spectra. The altered mutational patterns included base pair substitutions, single base pair indels, longer indels, and transpositions of different insertion sequences. The mutational spectrum of low-RpoS cells closely matches the genome-wide spectrum previously generated in laboratory environments, while the spectra of high RpoS, high perceived stress cells more closely matches spectra found in comparisons of extant genomes. Our results offer an explanation of the uneven mutational profiles such as the transition-transversion biases observed in extant genomes and provide a framework for assessing the contribution of stress-induced mutagenesis to evolutionary transitions and the mutational emergence of antibiotic resistance and disease states.
Keywords: E. coli; mutational spectrum; stress-induced mutagenesis; transition/transversion ratios.
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