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Genetics. 1988 Aug;119(4):771-8.

Effects of chromosomal inversion on cell fitness in Escherichia coli K-12.

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  • 1Department of Biological Chemistry, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Pennsylvania State University, Hershey 17033.


In an effort to learn what factors might mitigate the establishment of Escherichia coli variants bearing major chromosomal rearrangements, we have examined the effects on cell growth of two inversions between rRNA operons. One of these inversions, IN(rrnD-rrnE), had been propagated in a commonly used subline of E. coli K-12 for approximately 30 yr before its discovery, a fact that illustrates the absence of obvious detrimental effects associated with the inversion. We found that culturing under conditions requiring repeated transition from stationary phase to rapid growth led to the replacement of IN(rrnD-rrnE) cells by cells that had undergone either of two types of additional chromosomal inversion: one type fully restored the wild-type order, while the other partially restored it. The partial reinversion was also between rrn operons, but it left a small transposition. The tendency for overgrowth by these revertants persisted through several rounds of periodic selection. In contrast, the other inversion, IN(rrnG-rrnE), was associated with severe, detrimental effects. The effects of IN(rrnG-rrnE) were also alleviated by full or partial reinversion. The probable relationship between the severity of the effects caused by the inversions and the degree of displacement of the replication origin is discussed. Spontaneous inversion events between rrn operons separated by 18% of the chromosome were estimated to occur at a frequency of roughly 10(-5). If extended to natural situations, the growth disadvantage together with the relatively high frequency of reinversion suggest that clones of cells with an inversion between these rrn operons would be readily overgrown by revertants.

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