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Genetics. 2000 Dec;156(4):1471-81.

Compensatory evolution in rifampin-resistant Escherichia coli.

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Department of Biology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA.


This study examines the intrinsic fitness burden associated with RNA polymerase (rpoB) mutations conferring rifampin resistance in Escherichia coli K12 (MG1655) and explores the nature of adaptation to the costs of resistance. Among 28 independent Rif(r) mutants, the per-generation fitness burden (in the absence of rifampin) ranged from 0 to 28%, with a median of 6.4%. We detected no relationship between the magnitude of the cost and the level of resistance. Adaptation to the costs of rif resistance was studied by following serial transfer cultures for several Rif(r) mutants both in the presence of rifampin and in the absence. For cultures evolved in the absence of rifampin, single clones isolated after 200 generations were more fit than their ancestor; we saw no association between increased fitness and changes in the level of rifampin resistance; and in all cases, increased fitness was due to compensatory mutations, rather than to reversion to drug sensitivity. However, in the parallel evolution experiments in the presence of rifampin, overall levels of resistance increased as did relative fitness-for all strains save one that had an initially high level of resistance. Among the evolved clones tested, five (of seven) demonstrated increased transcription efficiency (assessed using a semiquantitative RT-PCR protocol). The implications of these results for our understanding of adaptive molecular evolution and the increasing clinical problem of antibiotic resistance are discussed.

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