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Microbiology. 2011 Sep;157(Pt 9):2604-10. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.050658-0. Epub 2011 Jun 23.

Stock culture heterogeneity rather than new mutational variation complicates short-term cell physiology studies of Escherichia coli K-12 MG1655 in continuous culture.

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Department of Chemistry, Tallinn University of Technology, Akadeemia Tee 15, 12618 Tallinn, Estonia.


Nutrient-limited continuous cultures in chemostats have been used to study microbial cell physiology for over 60 years. Genome instability and genetic heterogeneity are possible uncontrolled factors in continuous cultivation experiments. We investigated these issues by using high-throughput (HT) DNA sequencing to characterize samples from different phases of a glucose-limited accelerostat (A-stat) experiment with Escherichia coli K-12 MG1655 and a duration regularly used in cell physiology studies (20 generations of continuous cultivation). Seven consensus mutations from the reference sequence and five subpopulations characterized by different mutations were detected in the HT-sequenced samples. This genetic heterogeneity was confirmed to result from the stock culture by Sanger sequencing. All the subpopulations in which allele frequencies increased (betA, cspG/cspH, glyA) during the experiment were also present at the end of replicate A-stats, indicating that no new subpopulations emerged during our experiments. The fact that ~31 % of the cells in our initial cultures obtained directly from a culture stock centre were mutants raises concerns that even if cultivations are started from single colonies, there is a significant chance of picking a mutant clone with an altered phenotype. Our results show that current HT DNA sequencing technology allows accurate subpopulation analysis and demonstrates that a glucose-limited E. coli K-12 MG1655 A-stat experiment with a duration of tens of generations is suitable for studying cell physiology and collecting quantitative data for metabolic modelling without interference from new mutations.

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