The lac operon in the wild
By: Jesse, FabienneMaterial type: TextPublisher: IST Austria 2017Online resources: Click here to access online
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About the author
List of publications
List of tables
List of figures
1 General introduction
2 Chapter two: Recent history, diversity and selection pressures
3 Chapter three: A natural genotype-phenotype map
A Appendix 1
B Appendix 2
The lac operon is a classic model system for bacterial gene regulation, and has been studied extensively in E. coli, a classic model organism. However, not much is known about E. coli’s ecology and life outside the laboratory, in particular in soil and water environments. The natural diversity of the lac operon outside the laboratory, its role in the ecology of E. coli and the selection pressures it is exposed to, are similarly unknown.
In Chapter Two of this thesis, I explore the genetic diversity, phylogenetic history and signatures of selection of the lac operon across 20 natural isolates of E. coli and divergent clades of Escherichia. I found that complete lac operons were present in all isolates examined, which in all but one case were functional. The lac operon phylogeny conformed to the whole-genome phylogeny of the divergent Escherichia clades, which excludes horizontal gene transfer as an explanation for the presence of functional lac operons in these clades. All lac operon genes showed a signature of purifying selection; this signature was strongest for the lacY gene. Lac operon genes of human and environmental isolates showed similar signatures of selection, except the lacZ gene, which showed a stronger signature of selection in environmental isolates.
In Chapter Three, I try to identify the natural genetic variation relevant for phenotype and fitness in the lac operon, comparing growth rate on lactose and LacZ activity of the lac operons of these wild isolates in a common genetic background. Sequence variation in the lac promoter region, upstream of the -10 and -35 RNA polymerase binding motif, predicted variation in LacZ activity at full induction, using a thermodynamic model of polymerase binding (Tugrul, 2016). However, neither variation in LacZ activity, nor RNA polymerase binding predicted by the model correlated with variation in growth rate. Lac operons of human and environmental isolates did not differ systematically in either growth rate on lactose or LacZ protein activity, suggesting that these lac operons have been exposed to similar selection pressures. We thus have no evidence that the phenotypic variation we measured is relevant for fitness.
To start assessing the effect of genomic background on the growth phenotype conferred by the lac operon, I compared growth on minimal medium with lactose between lac operon constructs and the corresponding original isolates, I found that maximal growth rate was determined by genomic background, with almost all backgrounds conferring higher growth rates than lab strain K12 MG1655. However, I found no evidence that the lactose concentration at which growth was half maximal depended on genomic background.