Determinants of spontaneous mutation in the bacterium Escherichia coli as revealed by whole-genome sequencing

Patricia L. Foster, Heewook Lee, Ellen Popodi, Jesse P. Townes, Haixu Tang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


A complete understanding of evolutionary processes requires that factors determining spontaneous mutation rates and spectra be identified and characterized. Using mutation accumulation followed by whole-genome sequencing, we found that the mutation rates of three widely diverged commensal Escherichia coli strains differ only by about 50%, suggesting that a rate of 1-2 × 10-3 mutations per generation per genome is common for this bacterium. Four major forces are postulated to contribute to spontaneous mutations: intrinsic DNA polymerase errors, endogenously induced DNA damage, DNA damage caused by exogenous agents, and the activities of error-prone polymerases. To determine the relative importance of these factors, we studied 11 strains, each defective for a major DNA repair pathway. The striking result was that only loss of the ability to prevent or repair oxidative DNA damage significantly impacted mutation rates or spectra. These results suggest that, with the exception of oxidative damage, endogenously induced DNA damage does not perturb the overall accuracy of DNA replication in normally growing cells and that repair pathways may exist primarily to defend against exogenously induced DNA damage. The thousands of mutations caused by oxidative damage recovered across the entire genome revealed strong local-sequence biases of these mutations. Specifically, we found that the identity of the 3′ base can affect the mutability of a purine by oxidative damage by as much as eightfold.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E5990-E5999
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number44
StatePublished - Nov 3 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • DNA repair
  • Evolution
  • Mutation accumulation
  • Mutation rate
  • Oxidative DNA damage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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