Domesticating E. coli
Adaptation of environmental bacteria to laboratory conditions can lead to modification of important traits, what we term domestication. Little is known about the rapidity and reproducibility of domestication changes, the uniformity of these changes within a species or how diverse these are in a single culture. We analysed phenotypic changes in nutrient-rich liquid media or on agar of four E. coli strains newly isolated through minimal steps from different sources. The laboratory-cultured populations showed changes in metabolism, morphotype, fitness and in phenotypes associated with the sigma factor RpoS. Domestication events and phenotypic diversity started to emerge within 2-3 days in replicate sub-cultures of the same ancestor. In some strains, increased amino acid usage and higher fitness under nutrient limitation resembled those in mutants with the GASP (Growth Advantage in Stationary Phase) phenotype. The domestication changes are not uniform across a species or even within a single domesticated population. However, some parallelism in adaptation within repeat cultures was observed. Differences in the laboratory environment also determine domestication effects, which differ between liquid and solid media or with extended stationary phase. Important lessons for the handling and storage of organisms can be based on these studies.