Fitness and productivity increase with ecotypic diversity among escherichia coli strains that coevolved in a simple, constant environment

Dong Dong Yang, Ashley Alexander, Margie Kinnersley, Emily Cook, Amy Caudy, Adam Rosebrock, Frank Rosenzweiga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The productivity of a biological community often correlates with its diversity. In the microbial world this phenomenon can sometimes be explained by positive, density-dependent interactions such as cross-feeding and syntrophy. These metabolic interactions help account for the astonishing variety of microbial life and drive many of the biogeochemical cycles without which life as we know it could not exist. While it is difficult to recapitulate experimentally how these interactions evolved among multiple taxa, we can explore in the laboratory how they arise within one. These experiments provide insight into how different bacterial ecotypes evolve and from these, possibly new "species. " We have previously shown that in a simple, constant environment a single clone of Escherichia coli can give rise to a consortium of genetically and phenotypically differentiated strains, in effect, a set of ecotypes, that coexist by cross-feeding. We marked these different ecotypes and their shared ancestor by integrating fluorescent protein into their genomes and then used flow cytometry to show that each evolved strain is more fit than the shared ancestor, that pairs of evolved strains are fitter still, and that the entire consortium is the fittest of all. We further demonstrate that the rank order of fitness values agrees with estimates of yield, indicating that an experimentally evolved consortium more efficiently converts primary and secondary resources to offspring than its ancestor or any member acting in isolation. IMPORTANCE Polymicrobial consortia occur in both environmental and clinical settings. In many cases, diversity and productivity correlate in these consortia, especially when sustained by positive, density-dependent interactions. However, the evolutionary history of such entities is typically obscure, making it difficult to establish the relative fitness of consortium partners and to use those data to illuminate the diversity-productivity relationship. Here, we dissect an Escherichia coli consortium that evolved under continuous glucose limitation in the laboratory from a single common ancestor. We show that a partnership consisting of cross-feeding ecotypes is better able to secure primary and secondary resources and to convert those resources to offspring than the ancestral clone. Such interactions may be a prelude to a special form of syntrophy and are likely determinants of microbial community structure in nature, including those having clinical significance such as chronic infections.

Original languageEnglish
Article number51
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • Chemostat
  • Consortia
  • Cross-feeding
  • Diversity
  • E. coli
  • Ecotypes
  • Fitness
  • Productivity


Dive into the research topics of 'Fitness and productivity increase with ecotypic diversity among escherichia coli strains that coevolved in a simple, constant environment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this