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Genetica. 1991;84(3):195-202.

Plasmid macro-evolution: selection of deletions during adaptation in a nutrient-limited environment.

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Department of Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109.


Under conditions where plasmid-carriage is deleterious to the cell, evolutionary changes may be expected which result in an attenuation of the deleterious effect of the plasmid. During long-term growth in glucose-limited continuous culture, initiated with a single clone of Escherichia coli containing a derivative of the plasmid pBR322, a structural change arose in the plasmid and predominated in the plasmid-containing sector of the population. This variant possessed a 2.25 kb deletion encompassing the tetracycline resistance operon as well as a region of about 1.5 kb upstream from this operon. Competition experiments involving strains carrying the plasmid with the spontaneous deletion, and strains carrying plasmids with artificially constructed deletions, revealed that deletion of this region of the plasmid, involving loss of tetracycline resistance, resulted in an increment in fitness of between 10 and 20%. From the magnitude of the growth advantage, we conclude that the attenuation of the deleterious effect of the plasmid was mainly due to a reduction in the plasmid mediated interference in the metabolism of the cell caused by a deletion of the tetracycline resistance gene.

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