Paper on the evolution of antibiotic resistance in the laboratory

In a paper, just published in DNA Research, we use laboratory evolution and genome sequencing  to show that the benign laboratory workhorse Escherichia coli, when exposed to sub-lethal concentration of an aminoglycoside antibiotic, rapidly develops low-cost mutations that confer resistance to antibiotic. The experimental work was performed by Aalap Mogre, supported at various stages by Titas Sengupta, Reshma Veetil and Preethi Ravi.


The abstract of the paper reads as follows:

Evolution of bacteria under sublethal concentrations of antibiotics represents a trade-off between growth and resistance to the antibiotic. To understand this trade-off, we performed in vitro evolution of laboratory Escherichia coli under sublethal concentrations of the aminoglycoside kanamycin over short time durations. We report that fixation of less costly kanamycin-resistant mutants occurred earlier in populations growing at lower sublethal concentration of the antibiotic, compared with those growing at higher sublethal concentrations; in the latter, resistant mutants with a significant growth defect persisted longer. Using deep sequencing, we identified kanamycin resistance-conferring mutations, which were costly or not in terms of growth in the absence of the antibiotic. Multiple mutations in the C-terminal end of domain IV of the translation elongation factor EF-G provided low-cost resistance to kanamycin. Despite targeting the same or adjacent residues of the protein, these mutants differed from each other in the levels of resistance they provided. Analysis of one of these mutations showed that it has little defect in growth or in synthesis of green fluorescent protein (GFP) from an inducible plasmid in the absence of the antibiotic. A second class of mutations, recovered only during evolution in higher sublethal concentrations of the antibiotic, deleted the C-terminal end of the ATP synthase shaft. This mutation confers basal-level resistance to kanamycin while showing a strong growth defect in the absence of the antibiotic. In conclusion, the early dynamics of the development of resistance to an aminoglycoside antibiotic is dependent on the levels of stress (concentration) imposed by the antibiotic, with the evolution of less costly variants only a matter of time.