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1.  A Mechanistic Explanation Linking Adaptive Mutation, Niche Change, and Fitness Advantage for the Wrinkly Spreader 
Experimental evolution studies have investigated adaptive radiation in static liquid microcosms using the environmental bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25. In evolving populations a novel adaptive mutant known as the Wrinkly Spreader arises within days having significant fitness advantage over the ancestral strain. A molecular investigation of the Wrinkly Spreader has provided a mechanistic explanation linking mutation with fitness improvement through the production of a cellulose-based biofilm at the air-liquid interface. Colonisation of this niche provides greater access to oxygen, allowing faster growth than that possible for non-biofilm—forming competitors located in the lower anoxic region of the microcosm. Cellulose is probably normally used for attachment to plant and soil aggregate surfaces and to provide protection in dehydrating conditions. However, the evolutionary innovation of the Wrinkly Spreader in static microcosms is the use of cellulose as the matrix of a robust biofilm, and is achieved through mutations that deregulate multiple diguanylate cyclases leading to the over-production of cyclic-di-GMP and the stimulation of cellulose expression. The mechanistic explanation of the Wrinkly Spreader success is an exemplar of the modern evolutionary synthesis, linking molecular biology with evolutionary ecology, and provides an insight into the phenomenal ability of bacteria to adapt to novel environments.
PMCID: PMC3914426  PMID: 24551477
2.  Antagonistic coevolution accelerates molecular evolution 
Nature  2010;464(7286):275-278.
The Red Queen hypothesis proposes that coevolution of interacting species (such as hosts and parasites) should drive molecular evolution through continual natural selection for adaptation and counter-adaptation1–3. Although the divergence observed at some host-resistance4–6 and parasite-infectivity7–9 genes is consistent with this, the long time periods typically required to study coevolution have so far prevented any direct empirical test. Here we show, using experimental populations of the bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 and its viral parasite, phage Φ2 (refs 10, 11), that the rate of molecular evolution in the phage was far higher when both bacterium and phage coevolved with each other than when phage evolved against a constant host genotype. Coevolution also resulted in far greater genetic divergence between replicate populations, which was correlated with the range of hosts that coevolved phage were able to infect. Consistent with this, the most rapidly evolving phage genes under coevolution were those involved in host infection. These results demonstrate, at both the genomic and phenotypic level, that antagonistic coevolution is a cause of rapid and divergent evolution, and is likely to be a major driver of evolutionary change within species.
PMCID: PMC3717453  PMID: 20182425
3.  Transparent Soil for Imaging the Rhizosphere 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44276.
Understanding of soil processes is essential for addressing the global issues of food security, disease transmission and climate change. However, techniques for observing soil biology are lacking. We present a heterogeneous, porous, transparent substrate for in situ 3D imaging of living plants and root-associated microorganisms using particles of the transparent polymer, Nafion, and a solution with matching optical properties. Minerals and fluorescent dyes were adsorbed onto the Nafion particles for nutrient supply and imaging of pore size and geometry. Plant growth in transparent soil was similar to that in soil. We imaged colonization of lettuce roots by the human bacterial pathogen Escherichia coli O157:H7 showing micro-colony development. Micro-colonies may contribute to bacterial survival in soil. Transparent soil has applications in root biology, crop genetics and soil microbiology.
PMCID: PMC3439476  PMID: 22984484
4.  Environmental modification and niche construction: developing O2 gradients drive the evolution of the Wrinkly Spreader 
The ISME Journal  2010;5(4):665-673.
The evolutionary success of the novel Wrinkly Spreader (WS) genotypes in diversifying Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 populations in static liquid microcosms has been attributed to the greater availability of O2 at the air–liquid (A–L) interface where the WS produces a physically cohesive-class biofilm. However, the importance of O2 gradients in SBW25 adaptation has never been examined. We have explicitly tested the role of O2 in evolving populations using microsensor profiling and experiments conducted under high and low O2 conditions. Initial colonists of static microcosms were found to establish O2 gradients before significant population growth had occurred, converting a previously homogenous environment into one containing a resource continuum with high and low O2 regions. These gradients were found to persist for long periods by which time significant numbers of WS had appeared colonising the high O2 niches. Growth was O2 limited in static microcosms, but high O2 conditions like those found near the A–L interface supported greater growth and favoured the emergence of WS-like genotypes. A fitness advantage to biofilm formation was seen under high but not low O2 conditions, suggesting that the cost of biofilm production could only be offset when O2 levels above the A–L interface were high. Profiling of mature WS biofilms showed that they also contained high and low O2 regions. Niches within these may support further diversification and succession of the developing biofilm population. O2 availability has been found to be a major factor underlying the evolutionary success of the WS genotype in static microcosms and illustrates the importance of this resource continuum in microbial diversification and adaptation.
PMCID: PMC3105741  PMID: 20962880
Pseudomonas; biofilm; O2; evolution; selection; fitness
5.  Genomic and genetic analyses of diversity and plant interactions of Pseudomonas fluorescens 
Genome Biology  2009;10(5):R51.
Comparison of the genome sequences of three Pseudomonas fluorescens strains reveals a heterogeneity reminiscent of a species complex rather than a single species
Pseudomonas fluorescens are common soil bacteria that can improve plant health through nutrient cycling, pathogen antagonism and induction of plant defenses. The genome sequences of strains SBW25 and Pf0-1 were determined and compared to each other and with P. fluorescens Pf-5. A functional genomic in vivo expression technology (IVET) screen provided insight into genes used by P. fluorescens in its natural environment and an improved understanding of the ecological significance of diversity within this species.
Comparisons of three P. fluorescens genomes (SBW25, Pf0-1, Pf-5) revealed considerable divergence: 61% of genes are shared, the majority located near the replication origin. Phylogenetic and average amino acid identity analyses showed a low overall relationship. A functional screen of SBW25 defined 125 plant-induced genes including a range of functions specific to the plant environment. Orthologues of 83 of these exist in Pf0-1 and Pf-5, with 73 shared by both strains. The P. fluorescens genomes carry numerous complex repetitive DNA sequences, some resembling Miniature Inverted-repeat Transposable Elements (MITEs). In SBW25, repeat density and distribution revealed 'repeat deserts' lacking repeats, covering approximately 40% of the genome.
P. fluorescens genomes are highly diverse. Strain-specific regions around the replication terminus suggest genome compartmentalization. The genomic heterogeneity among the three strains is reminiscent of a species complex rather than a single species. That 42% of plant-inducible genes were not shared by all strains reinforces this conclusion and shows that ecological success requires specialized and core functions. The diversity also indicates the significant size of genetic information within the Pseudomonas pan genome.
PMCID: PMC2718517  PMID: 19432983
6.  Sequence-based analysis of pQBR103; a representative of a unique, transfer-proficient mega plasmid resident in the microbial community of sugar beet 
The ISME journal  2007;1(4):331-340.
The plasmid pQBR103 was found within Pseudomonas populations colonizing the leaf and root surfaces of sugar beet plants growing at Wytham, Oxfordshire, UK. At 425 kb it is the largest self-transmissible plasmid yet sequenced from the phytosphere. It is known to enhance the competitive fitness of its host, and parts of the plasmid are known to be actively transcribed in the plant environment. Analysis of the complete sequence of this plasmid predicts a coding sequence (CDS)-rich genome containing 478 CDSs and an exceptional degree of genetic novelty; 80% of predicted coding sequences cannot be ascribed a function and 60% are orphans. Of those to which function could be assigned, 40% bore greatest similarity to sequences from Pseudomonas spp, and the majority of the remainder showed similarity to other c-proteobacterial genera and plasmids. pQBR103 has identifiable regions presumed responsible for replication and partitioning, but despite being tra+ lacks the full complement of any previously described conjugal transfer functions. The DNA sequence provided few insights into the functional significance of plant-induced transcriptional regions, but suggests that 14% of CDSs may be expressed (11 CDSs with functional annotation and 54 without), further highlighting the ecological importance of these novel CDSs. Comparative analysis indicates that pQBR103 shares significant regions of sequence with other plasmids isolated from sugar beet plants grown at the same geographic location. These plasmid sequences indicate there is more novelty in the mobile DNA pool accessible to phytosphere pseudomonas than is currently appreciated or understood.
PMCID: PMC2656933  PMID: 18043644
Pseudomonas; phytosphere; environmental; plasmid; sequence
7.  The minimum information about a genome sequence (MIGS) specification 
Nature biotechnology  2008;26(5):541-547.
With the quantity of genomic data increasing at an exponential rate, it is imperative that these data be captured electronically, in a standard format. Standardization activities must proceed within the auspices of open-access and international working bodies. To tackle the issues surrounding the development of better descriptions of genomic investigations, we have formed the Genomic Standards Consortium (GSC). Here, we introduce the minimum information about a genome sequence (MIGS) specification with the intent of promoting participation in its development and discussing the resources that will be required to develop improved mechanisms of metadata capture and exchange. As part of its wider goals, the GSC also supports improving the ‘transparency’ of the information contained in existing genomic databases.
PMCID: PMC2409278  PMID: 18464787
8.  Wrinkly-Spreader Fitness in the Two-Dimensional Agar Plate Microcosm: Maladaptation, Compensation and Ecological Success 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(8):e740.
Bacterial adaptation to new environments often leads to the establishment of new genotypes with significantly altered phenotypes. In the Wrinkly Spreader (WS), ecological success in static liquid microcosms was through the rapid colonisation of the air-liquid interface by the production of a cellulose-based biofilm. Rapid surface spreading was also seen on agar plates, but in this two-dimensional environment the WS appears maladapted and rapidly reverts to the ancestral smooth (SM)-like colony genotype. In this work, the fitness of WS relative to SM in mixed colonies was found to be low, confirming the WS instability on agar plates. By examining defined WS mutants, the maladaptive characteristic was found to be the expression of cellulose. SM-like revertants had a higher growth rate than WS and no longer expressed significant amounts of cellulose, further confirming that the expression of this high-cost polymer was the basis of maladaptation and the target of compensatory mutation in developing colonies. However, examination of the fate of WS-founded populations in either multiple-colony or single mega-colony agar plate microcosms demonstrated that the loss of WS lineages could be reduced under conditions in which the rapid spreading colony phenotype could dominate nutrient and oxygen access more effectively than competing SM/SM-like genotypes. WS-like isolates recovered from such populations showed increased WS phenotype stability as well as changes in the degree of colony spreading, confirming that the WS was adapting to the two-dimensional agar plate microcosm.
PMCID: PMC1939736  PMID: 17710140

Results 1-8 (8)