The fitness effects of a point mutation in Escherichia coli change with founding population density

Huansheng Cao, Gordon R. Plague

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Although intraspecific competition plays a seminal role in organismal evolution, little is known about the fitness effects of mutations at different population densities. We identified a point mutation in the cyclic AMP receptor protein (CRP) gene in Escherichia coli that confers significantly higher fitness than the wildtype at low founding population density, but significantly lower fitness at high founding density. Because CRP is a transcription factor that regulates the expression of nearly 500 genes, we compared global gene expression profiles of the mutant and wildtype strains. This mutation (S63F) does not affect expression of crp itself, but it does significantly affect expression of 170 and 157 genes at high and low founding density, respectively. Interestingly, acid resistance genes, some of which are known to exhibit density-dependent effects in E. coli, were consistently differentially expressed at high but not low density. As such, these genes may play a key role in reducing the crp mutant’s fitness at high density, although other differentially expressed genes almost certainly also contribute to the fluctuating fitness differences we observed. Whatever the causes, we suspect that many mutations may exhibit density-dependent fitness effects in natural populations, so the fate of new mutations may frequently depend on the effective population size when they originate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-424
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • E. coli
  • Effective population size
  • Fluctuating fitness
  • Natural selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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