Relaxed natural selection alone does not permit transposable element expansion within 4,000 generations in Escherichia coli

Gordon R. Plague, Kevin M. Dougherty, Krystal S. Boodram, Samantha E. Boustani, Huansheng Cao, Sarah R. Manning, Camille C. McNally

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Insertion sequences (ISs) are transposable genetic elements in bacterial genomes. IS elements are common among bacteria but are generally rare within free-living species, probably because of the negative fitness effects they have on their hosts. Conversely, ISs frequently proliferate in intracellular symbionts and pathogens that recently transitioned from a free-living lifestyle. IS elements can profoundly influence the genomic evolution of their bacterial hosts, although it is unknown why they often expand in intracellular bacteria. We designed a laboratory evolution experiment with Escherichia coli K-12 to test the hypotheses that IS elements often expand in intracellular bacteria because of relaxed natural selection due to (1) their generally small effective population sizes (Ne) and thus enhanced genetic drift, and (2) their nutrient rich environment, which makes many biosynthetic genes unnecessary and thus selectively neutral territory for IS insertion. We propagated 12 populations under four experimental conditions: large Ne versus small Ne, and nutrient rich medium versus minimal medium. We found that relaxed selection over 4,000 generations was not sufficient to permit IS element expansion in any experimental population, thus leading us to hypothesize that IS expansion in intracellular symbionts may often be spurred by enhanced transposition rates, possibly due to environmental stress, coupled with relaxed natural selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)895-902
Number of pages8
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Experimental evolution
  • Genetic drift
  • IS element
  • Pathogenic bacteria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science
  • Insect Science


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