A functional perspective on phenotypic heterogeneity in microorganisms

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2015 Aug;13(8):497-508. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro3491. Epub 2015 Jul 6.


Most microbial communities consist of a genetically diverse assembly of different organisms, and the level of genetic diversity plays an important part in community properties and functions. However, biological diversity also arises at a lower level of biological organization, between genetically identical cells that reside in the same microenvironment. In this Review, I outline the molecular mechanisms responsible for phenotypic heterogeneity and discuss how phenotypic heterogeneity allows genotypes to persist in fluctuating environments. I also describe how it promotes interactions between phenotypic subpopulations in clonal groups, providing microbial groups with new functionality.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics
  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Environment
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Genetic Heterogeneity
  • Genotype
  • Phenotype
  • Stochastic Processes