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J Mol Evol. 2001 Jun;52(6):502-9.

Plasticity of fitness and diversification process during an experimental molecular evolution.

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Department of Biotechnology, Graduate School of Engineering, Osaka University, 2-1 Yamadaoka, Suita, Osaka 565-0871, Japan.


A simplified experimental evolution encompassing the essence of natural one was designed in an attempt to understand the involved mechanism. In our system, molecular evolution was observed through three serial cycles of consecutive random mutagenesis of the glutamine synthetase gene and chemostat culture of the transformed Escherichia coli cells containing the mutated genes. Selection pressure was imposed solely on the glutamine synthetase gene when varieties of mutant genes compete in an unstructured environment of the chemostat. The molecular phylogeny and population dynamics were deduced from the nucleotide sequences of the genes isolated from each of the chemostat runs. An initial mutant population in each cycle, comprised of diversified closely-related genes, ended up with several varieties of mutants in a state of coexistence. Competition between two mutant genes in the final population of the first cycle ascertained that the observed coexisting state is not an incidental event and that cellular interaction via environmental nutrients is a possible mechanism of coexistence. In addition, the mutant gene once extinct in the previous passage was found to have the capacity to reinvade and constitute the gene pool of the later cycle of molecular evolution. These results, including the kinetic characteristics of the purified wild-type and mutant glutamine synthetases in the phylogenetic tree, revealed that the enzyme activity had diverged, rather than optimized, to a fittest value during the course of evolution. Here, we proposed that the plasticity of gene fitness in consequence of cellular interaction via the environment is an essential mechanism governing molecular evolution.

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