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G3 (Bethesda). 2012 Nov;2(11):1341-4. doi: 10.1534/g3.112.003855. Epub 2012 Nov 1.

Escherichia coli lacking RpoS are rare in natural populations of non-pathogens.

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Department of Biology, Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, CA 91711, USA.


The alternative sigma factor RpoS controls a large regulon that allows E. coli to respond to a variety of stresses. Mutations in rpoS can increase rates of nutrient acquisition at the cost of a decrease in stress resistance. These kinds of mutations evolve rapidly under certain laboratory conditions where nutrient acquisition is especially challenging. The frequency of strains lacking RpoS in natural populations of E. coli is less clear. Such strains have been found at frequencies over 20% in some collections of wild isolates. However, laboratory handling can select for RpoS-null strains and may have affected some of these strain collections. Other studies have included an unknown diversity of strains or only used a phenotypic proxy as a measure of RpoS levels. We directly measured RpoS levels in a collection of E. coli that includes the full diversity of the species and that was handled in a manner to minimize the potential for laboratory evolution. We found that only 2% of strains produce no functional RpoS. Comparison of these strains in multiple labs shows that these rpoS mutations occurred in the laboratory. Earlier studies reporting much higher levels of RpoS polymorphism may reflect the storage history of the strains in laboratories rather than true frequency of such strains in natural populations.


SPANC; population genetics; transcription factor; variation

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