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Am Nat. 2010 Sep;176(3):303-11. doi: 10.1086/655217.

Hypermutability and compensatory adaptation in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

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Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.


Hypermutable (mutator) bacteria have been associated with the emergence of antibiotic resistance. A simple yet untested prediction is that mutator bacteria are able to compensate more quickly for pleiotropic fitness costs often associated with resistance, resulting in the maintenance of resistance in the absence of antibiotic selection. By using experimental populations of a wild-type and a mutator genotype of the pathogenic bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, we show that mutator bacteria can evolve resistance to antibiotics more rapidly than wild-type bacteria and, crucially, that mutators are better able to compensate for the fitness cost of resistance, to the extent that all costs of resistance were entirely compensated for in mutators. When competed against immigrant antibiotic-susceptible bacteria in the absence of antibiotics, antibiotic resistance remained at a high level in mutator populations but disappeared in wild-type populations. These results suggest that selection for mutations that offset the fitness cost associated with antibiotic resistance may help to explain the high frequency of mutator bacteria and antibiotic resistance observed in chronic infections.

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