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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Jun 12;109(24):9487-92. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1207091109. Epub 2012 May 29.

Ecological and evolutionary dynamics of coexisting lineages during a long-term experiment with Escherichia coli.

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  • 1Laboratoire Adaptation et Pathogénie des Microorganismes, Institut Jean Roget, Université Joseph Fourier, F-38041 Grenoble, France.


Closely related organisms usually occupy similar ecological niches, leading to intense competition and even extinction. Such competition also can promote rapid phenotypic evolution and ecological divergence. This process may end with the stable occupation of distinct niches or, alternatively, may entail repeated bouts of evolution. Here we examine two Escherichia coli lineages, called L and S, that coexisted for more than 30,000 generations after diverging from a common ancestor. Both lineages underwent sustained phenotypic evolution based on global transcription and resource utilization profiles, with L seeming to encroach over time on the catabolic profile of S. Reciprocal invasion experiments with L and S clones from the same or different generations revealed evolutionary changes in their interaction, including an asymmetry that confirmed the encroachment by L on the niche of the S lineage. In general, L and S clones from the same generation showed negative frequency-dependent effects, consistent with stable coexistence. However, L clones could invade S clones from both earlier and later generations, whereas S clones could invade only L clones from earlier generations. In this system, the long-term coexistence of competing lineages evidently depended on successive rounds of evolution, rather than on initial divergence followed by a static equilibrium.

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