TitleDynamics of Genetic Variation in Transcription Factors and Its Implications for the Evolution of Regulatory Networks in Bacteria
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsAli F, Seshasayee A
JournalNucleic Acids Res
Date Published05/2020

The evolution of regulatory networks in Bacteria has largely been explained at macroevolutionary scales through lateral gene transfer and gene duplication. Transcription factors (TF) have been found to be less conserved across species than their target genes (TG). This would be expected if TFs accumulate mutations faster than TGs. This hypothesis is supported by several lab evolution studies which found TFs, especially global regulators, to be frequently mutated. Despite these studies, the contribution of point mutations in TFs to the evolution of regulatory network is poorly understood. We tested if TFs show greater genetic variation than their TGs using whole-genome sequencing data from a large collection of Escherichia coli isolates. TFs were less diverse than their TGs across natural isolates, with TFs of large regulons being more conserved. In contrast, TFs showed higher mutation frequency in adaptive laboratory evolution experiments. However, over long-term laboratory evolution spanning 60 000 generations, mutation frequency in TFs gradually declined after a rapid initial burst. Extrapolating the dynamics of genetic variation from long-term laboratory evolution to natural populations, we propose that point mutations, conferring large-scale gene expression changes, may drive the early stages of adaptation but gene regulation is subjected to stronger purifying selection post adaptation.