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Mol Biol Evol. 2015 Oct;32(10):2707-15. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msv146. Epub 2015 Jun 25.

Adaptive Landscapes of Resistance Genes Change as Antibiotic Concentrations Change.

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School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced.
School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced


Most studies on the evolution of antibiotic resistance are focused on selection for resistance at lethal antibiotic concentrations, which has allowed the detection of mutant strains that show strong phenotypic traits. However, solely focusing on lethal concentrations of antibiotics narrowly limits our perspective of antibiotic resistance evolution. New high-resolution competition assays have shown that resistant bacteria are selected at relatively low concentrations of antibiotics. This finding is important because sublethal concentrations of antibiotics are found widely in patients undergoing antibiotic therapies, and in nonmedical conditions such as wastewater treatment plants, and food and water used in agriculture and farming. To understand the impacts of sublethal concentrations on selection, we measured 30 adaptive landscapes for a set of TEM β-lactamases containing all combinations of the four amino acid substitutions that exist in TEM-50 for 15 β-lactam antibiotics at multiple concentrations. We found that there are many evolutionary pathways within this collection of landscapes that lead to nearly every TEM-genotype that we studied. While it is known that the pathways change depending on the type of β-lactam, this study demonstrates that the landscapes including fitness optima also change dramatically as the concentrations of antibiotics change. Based on these results we conclude that the presence of multiple concentrations of β-lactams in an environment result in many different adaptive landscapes through which pathways to nearly every genotype are available. Ultimately this may increase the diversity of genotypes in microbial populations.


adaptive landscapes; antibiotic concentrations; antibiotic resistance; epistasis; genotype-by-environment interactions; inhibitor resistant; β-lactam

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