Effects of carriage and expression of the Tn10 tetracycline-resistance operon on the fitness of Escherichia coli K12

Mol Biol Evol. 1989 May;6(3):213-25. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a040545.


We have been examining the consequences of alternative modes of regulation of plasmid-borne, Tn10-encoded tetracycline resistance for the fitness of Escherichia coli. In a tetracycline-free environment, we measured the effects on fitness that were caused by (1) maximally induced expression of the resistance operon, (2) low-level constitutive expression of the resistance protein, (3) residual expression of the repressed resistance operon, (4) carriage of the resistance operon, (5) the remainder of the plasmid genome, and (6) hyperexpression of the repressor protein. We observed large reductions in fitness that were associated with induction and with constitutive expression of the tetracycline-resistance protein, but there was no discernible effect of hyperexpression of the repressor protein. We also observed a small reduction in fitness associated with the remainder of the plasmid genome. However, any reductions in fitness that were caused by residual expression and by carriage of the repressed operon were not more than 0.3%. We conclude that tight gene regulation has eliminated antagonistic pleiotropic effects of the resistance gene on fitness, so that possession of an inducible Tn10-encoded tetracycline-resistance operon imposes essentially no burden in the absence of antibiotic.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • DNA Transposable Elements*
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Operon*
  • Plasmids
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Repressor Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Tetracycline Resistance / genetics*
  • Tetracyclines / pharmacology


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Tetracyclines
  • 4-epianhydrotetracycline