How do bacteria regulate their cellular physiology in response to starvation? Here, we present a detailed characterization of Escherichia coli growth and starvation over a time-course lasting two weeks. We have measured multiple cellular components, including RNA and proteins at deep genomic coverage, as well as lipid modifications and flux through central metabolism. Our study focuses on the physiological response of E. coli in stationary phase as a result of being starved for glucose, not on the genetic adaptation of E. coli to utilize alternative nutrients. In our analysis, we have taken advantage of the temporal correlations within and among RNA and protein abundances to identify systematic trends in gene regulation. Specifically, we have developed a general computational strategy for classifying expression-profile time courses into distinct categories in an unbiased manner. We have also developed, from dynamic models of gene expression, a framework to characterize protein degradation patterns based on the observed temporal relationships between mRNA and protein abundances. By comparing and contrasting our transcriptomic and proteomic data, we have identified several broad physiological trends in the E. coli starvation response. Strikingly, mRNAs are widely down-regulated in response to glucose starvation, presumably as a strategy for reducing new protein synthesis. By contrast, protein abundances display more varied responses. The abundances of many proteins involved in energy-intensive processes mirror the corresponding mRNA profiles while proteins involved in nutrient metabolism remain abundant even though their corresponding mRNAs are down-regulated.
Bacteria frequently experience starvation conditions in their natural environments. Yet how they modify their physiology in response to these conditions remains poorly understood. Here, we performed a detailed, two-week starvation experiment in E. coli. We exhaustively monitored changes in cellular components, such as RNA and protein abundances, over time. We subsequently compared and contrasted these measurements using novel computational approaches we developed specifically for analyzing gene-expression time-course data. Using these approaches, we could identify systematic trends in the E. coli starvation response. In particular, we found that cells systematically limit mRNA and protein production, degrade proteins involved in energy-intensive processes, and maintain or increase the amount of proteins involved in energy production. Thus, the bacteria assume a cellular state in which their ongoing energy use is limited while they are poised to take advantage of any nutrients that may become available.