Experimental Evolution Reveals Unifying Systems-Level Adaptations but Diversity in Driving Genotypes

mSystems. 2022 Dec 20;7(6):e0016522. doi: 10.1128/msystems.00165-22. Epub 2022 Oct 13.


Genotype-fitness maps of evolution have been well characterized for biological components, such as RNA and proteins, but remain less clear for systems-level properties, such as those of metabolic and transcriptional regulatory networks. Here, we take multi-omics measurements of 6 different E. coli strains throughout adaptive laboratory evolution (ALE) to maximal growth fitness. The results show the following: (i) convergence in most overall phenotypic measures across all strains, with the notable exception of divergence in NADPH production mechanisms; (ii) conserved transcriptomic adaptations, describing increased expression of growth promoting genes but decreased expression of stress response and structural components; (iii) four groups of regulatory trade-offs underlying the adjustment of transcriptome composition; and (iv) correlates that link causal mutations to systems-level adaptations, including mutation-pathway flux correlates and mutation-transcriptome composition correlates. We thus show that fitness landscapes for ALE can be described with two layers of causation: one based on system-level properties (continuous variables) and the other based on mutations (discrete variables). IMPORTANCE Understanding the mechanisms of microbial adaptation will help combat the evolution of drug-resistant microbes and enable predictive genome design. Although experimental evolution allows us to identify the causal mutations underlying microbial adaptation, it remains unclear how causal mutations enable increased fitness and is often explained in terms of individual components (i.e., enzyme rate) as opposed to biological systems (i.e., pathways). Here, we find that causal mutations in E. coli are linked to systems-level changes in NADPH balance and expression of stress response genes. These systems-level adaptation patterns are conserved across diverse E. coli strains and thus identify cofactor balance and proteome reallocation as dominant constraints governing microbial adaptation.

Keywords: adaptive evolution; metabolism; regulatory network; systems biology; transcriptional regulatory network.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological* / genetics
  • Escherichia coli* / genetics
  • Genotype
  • Mutation / genetics
  • NADP / genetics


  • NADP