Chromosomal barcoding of E. coli populations reveals lineage diversity dynamics at high resolution

Nat Ecol Evol. 2020 Mar;4(3):437-452. doi: 10.1038/s41559-020-1103-z. Epub 2020 Feb 24.


Evolutionary dynamics in large asexual populations is strongly influenced by multiple competing beneficial lineages, most of which segregate at very low frequencies. However, technical barriers to tracking a large number of these rare lineages in bacterial populations have so far prevented a detailed elucidation of evolutionary dynamics. Here, we overcome this hurdle by developing a chromosomal-barcoding technique that allows simultaneous tracking of approximately 450,000 distinct lineages in Escherichia coli, which we use to test the effect of sub-inhibitory concentrations of common antibiotics on the evolutionary dynamics of low-frequency lineages. We find that populations lose lineage diversity at distinct rates that correspond to their antibiotic regimen. We also determine that some lineages have similar fates across independent experiments. By analysing the trajectory dynamics, we attribute the reproducible fates of these lineages to the presence of pre-existing beneficial mutations, and we demonstrate how the relative contribution of pre-existing and de novo mutations varies across drug regimens. Finally, we reproduce the observed lineage dynamics by simulations. Altogether, our results provide a valuable methodology for studying bacterial evolution as well as insights into evolution under sub-inhibitory antibiotic levels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Escherichia coli*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Mutation


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents