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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Jun 6;92(12):5669-73.

Adaptive mutations in Escherichia coli as a model for the multiple mutational origins of tumors.

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Biology Department, University of Rochester, NY 14627, USA.


The cells in most tumors are found to carry multiple mutations; however, based upon mutation rates determined by fluctuation tests, the frequency of such multiple mutations should be so low that tumors are never detected within human populations. Fluctuation tests, which determine the cell-division-dependent mutation rate per cell generation in growing cells, may not be appropriate for estimating mutation rates in nondividing or very slowly dividing cells. Recent studies of time-dependent, "adaptive" mutations in nondividing populations of microorganisms suggest that similar measurements may be more appropriate to understanding the mutation origins of tumors. Here I use the ebgR and ebgA genes of Escherichia coli to measure adaptive mutation rates where multiple mutations are required for rapid growth. Mutations in either ebgA or ebgR allow very slow growth on lactulose (4-O-beta-D-galactosyl-D-fructose), with doubling times of 3.2 and 17.3 days, respectively. However, when both mutations are present, cells can grow rapidly with doubling times of 2.7 hr. I show that during prolonged (28-day) selection for growth on lactulose, the number of lactulose-utilizing mutants that accumulate is 40,000 times greater than can be accounted for on the basis of mutation rates measured by fluctuation tests, but is entirely consistent with the time-dependent adaptive mutation rates measured under the same conditions of prolonged selection.

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