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J Evol Biol. 2011 Jul;24(7):1559-71. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2011.02287.x. Epub 2011 May 13.

The decoupling between genetic structure and metabolic phenotypes in Escherichia coli leads to continuous phenotypic diversity.

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DGA/CNRS, UMR de Génétique Végétale INRA/CNRS/Univ Paris-Sud, Ferme du Moulon, Gif-sur-Yvette, France.


To assess the extent of intra-species diversity and the links between phylogeny, lifestyle (habitat and pathogenicity) and phenotype, we assayed the growth yield on 95 carbon sources of 168 Escherichia strains. We also correlated the growth capacities of 14 E. coli strains with the presence/absence of enzyme-coding genes. Globally, we found that the genetic distance, based on multilocus sequence typing data, was a weak indicator of the metabolic phenotypic distance. Besides, lifestyle and phylogroup had almost no impact on the growth yield of non-Shigella E. coli strains. In these strains, the presence/absence of the metabolic pathways, which was linked to the phylogeny, explained most of the growth capacities. However, few discrepancies blurred the link between metabolic phenotypic distance and metabolic pathway distance. This study shows that a prokaryotic species structured into well-defined genetic and lifestyle groups can yet exhibit continuous phenotypic diversity, possibly caused by gene regulatory effects.

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