Mutation rate plasticity in rifampicin resistance depends on Escherichia coli cell-cell interactions

Rok Krašovec*, Roman V. Belavkin, John A.D. Aston, Alastair Channon, Elizabeth Aston, Bharat M. Rash, Manikandan Kadirvel, Sarah Forbes, Christopher G. Knight

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)
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Variation of mutation rate at a particular site in a particular genotype, in other words mutation rate plasticity (MRP), can be caused by stress or ageing. However, mutation rate control by other factors is less well characterized. Here we show that in wild-type Escherichia coli (K-12 and B strains), the mutation rate to rifampicin resistance is plastic and inversely related to population density: lowering density can increase mutation rates at least threefold. This MRP is genetically switchable, dependent on the quorum-sensing gene luxS - specifically its role in the activated methyl cycle - and is socially mediated via cell-cell interactions. Although we identify an inverse association of mutation rate with fitness under some circumstances, we find no functional link with stress-induced mutagenesis. Our experimental manipulation of mutation rates via the social environment raises the possibility that such manipulation occurs in nature and could be exploited medically.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3742
Number of pages8
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Richard A. Lenski and Karina B. Xavier for strains; and Casey M. Bergman, Michael A. Brockhurst, Andrew J. McBain, R. Craig Maclean, Chris Simms and Dan P. Smith for discussions and critical readings of the manuscript. This work was supported by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) grant EP/H031936/1 and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) grant BB/L009579/1. C.G.K. was supported by fellowship 082453/Z/07/Z from the Wellcome Trust.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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