(2019) PLoS Biology. 17, 3, p. e3000182 3000182. Abstract
In experimental evolution, scientists evolve organisms in the lab, typically by challenging them to new environmental conditions. How best to evolve a desired trait? Should the challenge be applied abruptly, gradually, periodically, sporadically? Should one apply chemical mutagenesis, and do strains with high innate mutation rate evolve faster? What are ideal population sizes of evolving populations? There are endless strategies, beyond those that can be exposed by individual labs. We therefore arranged a community challenge, Evolthon, in which students and scientists from different labs were asked to evolve Escherichia coli or Saccharomyces cerevisiae for an abiotic stresslow temperature. About 30 participants from around the world explored diverse environmental and genetic regimes of evolution. After a period of evolution in each lab, all strains of each species were competed with one another. In yeast, the most successful strategies were those that used mating, underscoring the importance of sex in evolution. In bacteria, the fittest strain used a strategy based on exploration of different mutation rates. Different strategies displayed variable levels of performance and stability across additional challenges and conditions. This study therefore uncovers principles of effective experimental evolutionary regimens and might prove useful also for biotechnological developments of new strains and for understanding natural strategies in evolutionary arms races between species. Evolthon constitutes a model for community-based scientific exploration that encourages creativity and cooperation.
RNA editing in bacteria recodes multiple proteins and regulates an evolutionarily conserved toxin-antitoxin system(2017) Genome Research. 27, 10, p. 1696-1703 Abstract
Adenosine (A) to inosine (I) RNA editing is widespread in eukaryotes. In prokaryotes, however, A-to-I RNA editing was only reported to occur in tRNAs but not in protein-coding genes. By comparing DNA and RNA sequences of Escherichia coli, we show for the first time that A-to-I editing occurs also in prokaryotic mRNAs and has the potential to affect the translated proteins and cell physiology. We found 15 novel A-to-I editing events, of which 12 occurred within known protein-coding genes where they always recode a tyrosine (TAC) into a cysteine (TGC) codon. Furthermore, we identified the tRNA-specific adenosine deaminase (tadA) as the editing enzyme of all these editing sites, thus making it the first identified RNA editing enzyme that modifies both tRNAs and mRNAs. Interestingly, several of the editing targets are self-killing toxins that belong to evolutionarily conserved toxin-antitoxin pairs. We focused on hokB, a toxin that confers antibiotic tolerance by growth inhibition, as it demonstrated the highest level of such mRNA editing. We identified a correlated mutation pattern between the edited and a DNA hard-coded Cys residue positions in the toxin and demonstrated that RNA editing occurs in hokB in two additional bacterial species. Thus, not only the toxin is evolutionarily conserved but also the editing itself within the toxin is. Finally, we found that RNA editing in hokB increases as a function of cell density and enhances its toxicity. Our work thus demonstrates the occurrence, regulation, and functional consequences of RNA editing in bacteria.
(2017) Molecular Cell. 65, 1, p. 142-153 Abstract
Gene expression burdens cells by consuming resources and energy. While numerous studies have investigated regulation of expression level, little is known about gene design elements that govern expression costs. Here, we ask how cells minimize production costs while maintaining a given protein expression level and whether there are gene architectures that optimize this process. We measured fitness of similar to 14,000 E. coli strains, each expressing a reporter gene with a unique 5' architecture. By comparing cost-effective and ineffective architectures, we found that cost per protein molecule could be minimized by lowering transcription levels, regulating translation speeds, and utilizing amino acids that are cheap to synthesize and that are less hydrophobic. We then examined natural E. coli genes and found that highly expressed genes have evolved more forcefully to minimize costs associated with their expression. Our study thus elucidates gene design elements that improve the economy of protein expression in natural and heterologous systems.
(2015) Cell. 163, 3, p. 549-559 Abstract
Adaptation is the process in which organisms improve their fitness by changing their phenotype using genetic or non-genetic mechanisms. The adaptation toolbox consists of varied molecular and genetic means that we posit span an almost continuous "adaptation spectrum." Different adaptations are characterized by the time needed for organisms to attain them and by their duration. We suggest that organisms often adapt by progressing the adaptation spectrum, starting with rapidly attained physiological and epigenetic adaptations and culminating with slower long-lasting genetic ones. A tantalizing possibility is that earlier adaptations facilitate realization of later ones.
(2009) Cell. 136, 3, p. 389-392 Abstract
Many crucial components of signal transduction, developmental, and metabolic pathways have functionally redundant copies. Further, these redundancies show surprising evolutionary stability over prolonged time scales. We propose that redundancies are not just archeological leftovers of ancient gene duplications, but rather that synergy arising from feedback between redundant copies may serve as an information processing element that facilitates signal transduction and the control of gene expression.