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EMBO J. 1997 Jun 2;16(11):3303-11.

Genome-wide hypermutation in a subpopulation of stationary-phase cells underlies recombination-dependent adaptive mutation.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.


Stationary-phase mutation in microbes can produce selected ('adaptive') mutants preferentially. In one system, this occurs via a distinct, recombination-dependent mechanism. Two points of controversy have surrounded these adaptive reversions of an Escherichia coli lac mutation. First, are the mutations directed preferentially to the selected gene in a Lamarckian manner? Second, is the adaptive mutation mechanism specific to the F plasmid replicon carrying lac? We report that lac adaptive mutations are associated with hypermutation in unselected genes, in all replicons in the cell. The associated mutations have a similar sequence spectrum to the adaptive reversions. Thus, the adaptive mutagenesis mechanism is not directed to the lac genes, in a Lamarckian manner, nor to the F' replicon carrying lac. Hypermutation was not found in non-revertants exposed to selection. Therefore, the genome-wide hypermutation underlying adaptive mutation occurs in a differentiated subpopulation. The existence of mutable subpopulations in non-growing cells is important in bacterial evolution and could be relevant to the somatic mutations that give rise to cancers in multicellular organisms.

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