Experimental Evolution of UV-C Radiation Tolerance: Emergence of Adaptive and Non-Adaptive Traits in Escherichia coli Under Differing Flux Regimes
Abstract:High-energy ultraviolet (UV-C) radiation is a significant challenge to life in environments such as high altitude areas, the early Earth, the Martian surface, and space. As UV-C exposure is both a selection pressure and a mutagen, adaptation dynamics in such environments include a high rate of change in both tolerance-related and non-tolerance-related genes, as well changes in linkages between the resulting traits. Determining the relationship between the intensity and duration of the UV-C exposure, mutation rate, and emergence of UV-C resistance will inform our understanding of both the emergence of radiation-related extremophily in natural environments and the optimal strategies for generating artificial extremophiles.
In this study, we iteratively exposed an Escherichia colistrain to UV-C radiation of two different fluxes, 3.3 J/m^2/s for 6 seconds and 0.5 J/m^2/s for 40 seconds, with the same overall fluence of 20 J/m^2. After each iteration, cells from each exposure regime were assayed for increased UV-C tolerance as an adaptive trait. The exposed cells carried a plasmid bearing a TEM beta-lactamase gene, which in the absence of antibiotic treatment is a neutral reporter for mutagenesis. Sequencing of this gene allowed us to determine the baseline mutation frequency for each flux. As an additional readout for adaptation, the presence of extended-spectrum beta-lactamase mutations was tested by plating UV-exposed cultures in cefotaxime plates.
We observed an increase of approximately one-million-fold in UV-C tolerance over seven iterations; no significant difference between the two fluxes was found. Future work will focus on identifying the genomic changes responsible for the change in UV-C tolerance; determining the mechanisms of the emerged UV-C tolerance; and performing competition experiments between the iteration strains to quantify fitness tradeoffs resulting from UV-C adaptation.