For micro-organisms cycling between free-living and host-associated stages, where reproduction occurs in both of these lifestyles, an interesting inquiry is whether evolution during the free-living stage can be positively pleiotropic to microbial fitness in a host environment. To address this topic, the squid host Euprymna tasmanica and the marine bioluminescent bacterium Vibrio fischeri were utilized. Microbial ecological diversification in static liquid microcosms was used to simulate symbiont evolution during the free-living stage. Thirteen genetically distinct V. fischeri strains from a broad diversity of ecological sources (e.g. squid light organs, fish light organs and seawater) were examined to see if the results were reproducible in many different genetic settings. Genetic backgrounds that are closely related can be predisposed to considerable differences in how they respond to similar selection pressures. For all strains examined, new mutations with striking and facilitating effects on host colonization arose quickly during microbial evolution in the free-living stage, regardless of the ecological context under consideration for a strain’s genetic background. Microbial evolution outside a host environment promoted host range expansion, improved host colonization for a micro-organism, and diminished the negative correlation between biofilm formation and motility.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
W. S. was supported by an HHMI Undergraduate Science Education Grant (52006952) and a College of William & Mary Startup. M. K. N. was supported by an NMSU Foundation Grant and IRACDA-UNM ASERT, NIH-K12GM088021.
- Ecological diversification
- Host-microbe interactions