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Mol Biol Evol. 2019 Oct 1;36(10):2313-2327. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msz148.

Mutational and Selective Processes Involved in Evolution during Bacterial Range Expansions.

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CMPG, Institute of Ecology an Evolution, University of Berne, Berne, Switzerland.
Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Lausanne, Switzerland.
Interfaculty Bioinformatics Unit, University of Berne, Berne, Switzerland.
Institute of Biogeochemistry and Pollutant Dynamics, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zürich), Zürich, Switzerland.
Department of Environmental Microbiology, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag), Dübendorf, Switzerland.


Bacterial populations have been shown to accumulate deleterious mutations during spatial expansions that overall decrease their fitness and ability to grow. However, it is unclear if and how they can respond to selection in face of this mutation load. We examine here if artificial selection can counteract the negative effects of range expansions. We examined the molecular evolution of 20 mutator lines selected for fast expansions (SEL) and compared them to 20 other mutator lines freely expanding without artificial selection (CONTROL). We find that the colony size of all 20 SEL lines have increased relative to the ancestral lines, unlike CONTROL lines, showing that enough beneficial mutations are produced during spatial expansions to counteract the negative effect of expansion load. Importantly, SEL and CONTROL lines have similar numbers of mutations indicating that they evolved for the same number of generations and that increased fitness is not due to a purging of deleterious mutations. We find that loss of function mutations better explain the increased colony size of SEL lines than nonsynonymous mutations or a combination of the two. Interestingly, most loss of function mutations are found in simple sequence repeats (SSRs) located in genes involved in gene regulation and gene expression. We postulate that such potentially reversible mutations could play a major role in the rapid adaptation of bacteria to changing environmental conditions by shutting down expensive genes and adjusting gene expression.


experimental evolution; mutation load; range expansion


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