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J Bacteriol. 2000 Aug;182(15):4361-5.

Prolonged stationary-phase incubation selects for lrp mutations in Escherichia coli K-12.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Evolution by natural selection occurs in cultures of Escherichia coli maintained under carbon starvation stress. Mutants of increased fitness express a growth advantage in stationary phase (GASP) phenotype, enabling them to grow and displace the parent as the majority population. The first GASP mutation was identified as a loss-of-function allele of rpoS, encoding the stationary-phase global regulator, sigma(S) (M. M. Zambrano, D. A. Siegele, M. A. Almirón, A. Tormo, and R. Kolter, Science 259:1757-1760, 1993). We now report that a second global regulator, Lrp, can also play a role in stationary-phase competition. We found that a mutant that took over an aged culture of an rpoS strain had acquired a GASP mutation in lrp. This GASP allele, lrp-1141, encodes a mutant protein lacking the critical glycine in the turn of the helix-turn-helix DNA-binding domain. The lrp-1141 allele behaves as a null mutation when in single copy and is dominant negative when overexpressed. Hence, the mutant protein appears to retain stability and the ability to dimerize but lacks DNA-binding activity. We also demonstrated that a lrp null allele generated by a transposon insertion has a fitness gain identical to that of the lrp-1141 allele, verifying that cells lacking Lrp activity have a competitive advantage during prolonged starvation. Finally, we tested by genetic analysis the hypothesis that the lrp-1141 GASP mutation confers a fitness gain by enhancing amino acid catabolism during carbon starvation. We found that while amino acid catabolism may play a role, it is not necessary for the lrp GASP phenotype, and hence the lrp GASP phenotype is due to more global physiological changes.

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