The temporal change of phenotypes during the adaptive process remains largely unexplored, as do the genetic changes that affect these phenotypic changes. Here we focused on three mutations that rose to high frequency in the early stages of adaptation within 12 Escherichia coli populations subjected to thermal stress (42 °C). All the mutations were in the rpoB gene, which encodes the RNA polymerase beta subunit. For each mutation, we measured the growth curves and gene expression (mRNAseq) of clones at 42 °C. We also compared growth and gene expression with their ancestor under unstressed (37 °C) and stressed conditions (42 °C). Each of the three mutations changed the expression of hundreds of genes and conferred large fitness advantages, apparently through the restoration of global gene expression from the stressed toward the prestressed state. These three mutations had a similar effect on gene expression as another single mutation in a distinct domain of the rpoB protein. Finally, we compared the phenotypic characteristics of one mutant, I572L, with two high-temperature adapted clones that have this mutation plus additional background mutations. The background mutations increased fitness, but they did not substantially change gene expression. We conclude that early mutations in a global transcriptional regulator cause extensive changes in gene expression, many of which are likely under positive selection for their effect in restoring the prestress physiology.
Keywords: bacterial adaptation; experimental evolution; gene expression.
© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.