Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Mutant champions save imperiled species from almost-certain extinction

20.02.2013
Species facing widespread and rapid environmental changes can sometimes evolve quickly enough to dodge the extinction bullet. Populations of disease-causing bacteria evolve, for example, as doctors flood their “environment,” the human body, with antibiotics. Insects, animals and plants can make evolutionary adaptations in response to pesticides, heavy metals and overfishing.

Previous studies have shown that the more gradual the change, the better the chances for “evolutionary rescue” – the process of mutations occurring fast enough to allow a population to avoid extinction in changing environments. One obvious reason is that more individuals remain alive when change is gradual or moderate, meaning there are more opportunities for a winning mutation to emerge.


S Hammarlund/U of Washington

Tiny wells, each about the size of an eraser on the end of a pencil, hold individual populations of E. coli either evolving or succumbing to different levels of an antibiotic which has a red-orange hue.

Now University of Washington biologists using populations of microorganisms have shed light for the first time on a second reason. They found that the mutation that wins the race in the harshest environment is often dependent on a “relay team” of other mutations that came before, mutations that emerge only as conditions worsen at gradual and moderate rates.

Without the winners from those first “legs” of the survival race, it’s unlikely there will even be a runner in the anchor position when conditions become extreme.

“That’s a problem given the number of factors on the planet being changed with unprecedented rapidity under the banner of climate change and other human-caused changes,” said Benjamin Kerr, UW assistant professor of biology.

Kerr is corresponding author of a paper in the advance online edition of Nature the week of Feb. 9.

Unless a species can relocate or its members already have a bit of flexibility to alter their behavior or physiology, the only option is to evolve or die in the face of challenging environmental conditions, said lead author Haley Lindsey of Seattle, a former lab member. Other co-authors are Jenna Gallie, now with ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and Susan Taylor of Seattle.

The species studied was Escherichia coli, or E. coli, a bacterium commonly found in the lower intestine and harmless except for certain strains that cause food-poisoning sickness and death in humans. The UW researchers evolved hundreds of populations of E.coli under environments made ever more stressful by the addition of an antibiotic that cripples and kills the bacterium. The antibiotic was ramped up at gradual, moderate and rapid rates.

Mutations at known genes confer protection to the drug. Researchers examined these genes in surviving populations from gradual- and moderate-rate environments, and found multiple mutations.

Using genetic engineering, the scientists pulled out each mutation to see what protectiveness it provided on its own. They found some were only advantageous at the lower concentration of the drug and unable to save the population at the highest concentrations. But those mutations “predispose the lineage to gain other mutations that allow it to escape extinction at high stress,” the authors wrote.

“That two-step path leading to the double mutant is not available if a population is immersed abruptly into the high-concentration environment,” Kerr said. For populations in that situation, there were only single mutations that gave protection against the antibiotic.

“The rate of environmental deterioration can qualitatively affect evolutionary trajectories,” the authors wrote. “In our system, we find that rapid environmental change closes off paths that are accessible under gradual change.”

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation, including money through the consortium known as the Beacon Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, and UW Royalty Research Funds.

The findings have implications for those concerned about antibiotic-resistant organisms as well as those considering the effects of climate and global change, Kerr said. For instance, antibiotics found at very low concentrations in industrial and agricultural waste run-off might be evolutionarily priming bacterial populations to become drug resistant even at high doses.

As for populations threatened by human-caused climate change, “our study does suggest that there is genuine reason to worry about unusually high rates of environmental change,” the authors wrote. “As the rate of environmental deterioration increases, there can be pronounced increases in the rate of extinction.”
For more information:
Kerr, 206-221-3996, 206 221-7026, kerrb@uw.edu

Sandra Hines | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uw.edu
http://www.washington.edu/news/2013/02/19/mutant-champions-save-imperiled-species-from-almost-certain-extinction/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How brains surrender to sleep
23.06.2017 | IMP - Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pathologie GmbH

nachricht A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>