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EXS. 1997;83:135-54.

Phenotypic and evolutionary adaptation of a model bacterial system to stressful thermal environments.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine 92697, USA.


We studied both phenotypic and evolutionary adaptation to various thermal environments using the bacterium Escherichia coli as an experimental model system. We determined that 42 degrees C was stressful to a bacterial clone adapted to 37 degrees C, based on reductions in both absolute and competitive fitness, as well as induction of a heat stress response. This clone was also used to found replicated populations that were propagated for thousands of generations under several different thermal regimes, including 42 degrees C. Evolutionary adaptation of the populations to 42 degrees C resulted in an increase in both absolute and relative fitness at that temperature, measured respectively as an increase in the number of descendants (and their biovolume) and in competitive ability relative to the ancestral clone. The replicated experimental lineages achieved their evolutionary improvement by several distinct pathways, which produced differential preadaptation to a non-stressful nutrient environment. Adaptation to this stressful temperature entailed neither a change in the ancestral thermal niche nor any pronounced trade-offs in fitness within the thermal niche, contrary to a priori predictions. This study system was several important advantages for evaluating hypotheses concerning the effects of stress on phenotypic and evolutionary adaptation, including the ability to obtain lineages that have evolved in controlled and defined environments, to make direct measurements of fitness and to quantify the degree of stress imposed by different environments.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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