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ISME J. 2015 Oct;9(10):2221-31. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2015.35. Epub 2015 Apr 7.

Growth phase-specific evolutionary benefits of natural transformation in Acinetobacter baylyi.

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Department of Pharmacy, Faculty of Health Sciences, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway.
Department of Microbiology and Infection Control, University Hospital of North Norway, Tromsø, Norway.
GenØk-Centre for Biosafety, Tromsø, Norway.


Natural transformation in bacteria facilitates the uptake and genomic integration of exogenous DNA. This allows horizontal exchange of adaptive traits not easily achieved by point mutations, and has a major role in the acquisition of adaptive traits exemplified by antibiotic resistance determinants and vaccination escape. Mechanisms of DNA uptake and genomic integration are well described for several naturally transformable bacterial species; however, the selective forces responsible for its evolution and maintenance are still controversial. In this study we evolved transformation-proficient and -deficient Acinetobacter baylyi for 175 days in serial transfer cultures where stress was included. We found that natural transformation-proficient populations adapted better to active growth and early stationary phase. This advantage was offset by the reduced performance in the late stationary/death phase. We demonstrate fitness trade-offs between adaptation to active growth and survival in stationary/death phase caused by antagonistic pleiotropy. The presented data suggest that the widely held assumption that recombination speeds up adaptation by rapid accumulation of multiple adaptive mutations in the same genetic background is not sufficient to fully account for the maintenance of natural transformation in bacteria.

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