Nanocalorimetry Reveals the Growth Dynamics of Escherichia coli Cells Undergoing Adaptive Evolution during Long-Term Stationary Phase.


Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI), University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA [Email]


Bacterial populations in long-term stationary-phase (LTSP) laboratory cultures can provide insights into physiological and genetic adaptations to low-energy conditions and population dynamics in natural environments. While overall population density remains stable, these communities are very dynamic and are characterized by the rapid emergence and succession of distinct mutants expressing the growth advantage in stationary phase (GASP) phenotype, which can reflect an increased capacity to withstand energy limitations and environmental stress. Here, we characterize the metabolic heat signatures and growth dynamics of GASP mutants within an evolving population using isothermal calorimetry. We aged Escherichia coli in anaerobic batch cultures over 20 days inside an isothermal nanocalorimeter and observed distinct heat events related to the emergence of three mutant populations expressing the GASP phenotype after 1.5, 3, and 7 days. Given the heat produced by each population, the maximum number of GASP mutant cells was calculated, revealing abundances of ∼2.5 × 107, ∼7.5 × 106, and ∼9.9 × 106 cells in the populations, respectively. These data indicate that mutants capable of expressing the GASP phenotype can be acquired during the exponential growth phase and subsequently expressed in LTSP culture.IMPORTANCE The present study is innovative in that we have identified previously unknown growth dynamics related to the temporal expression of the growth advantage in stationary phase (GASP) phenotype that allow mutants in long-term stationary-phase cultures to capitalize on the decrease of energy over prolonged incubation periods. By remaining in an active, but growth-limited, metabolic state similar to that observed in GASP cells grown in vitro, natural microbial communities might be able to prevail over much longer time scales. We believe this report to be a remarkable methodological and conceptual breakthrough in the study of the long-term survival and evolution of bacteria.


adaptive evolution,low-energy stress,nanocalorimetry,survival,

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