Cost and benefit of bacterial transformation

Enno Oldewurtel, Jeffrey Power


Direct visualization of bacterial transformation. Bacteria grow on an agar plate with DNA containing the gene that encodes for yellow fluorescent EYFP (here shown in red). When a single bacterium has imported the DNA and integrated the eyfp gene into its chromosome, it becomes red fluorescent. Since the acquisition of the novel gene is inheritable, the offspring is also fluorescent.



Bacterial transformation enables bacteria to exchange genetic information and can therefore speed up adaptive evolution. However, it is unclear under which conditions the benefit of transformation outweighs its cost. The goal of this project will be to experimentally quantify the costs and benefits of transformation in Neisseria gonorrhoeae. In the long run, this project will contribute to our understanding of how recombination has evolved and is stably maintained.

In particular, we will test the influence of reversible mutations in genes that generate costs in transformable strains. Flow cell cytometry and growth of bacteria in confined environments allow us not only to look at bulk properties, but at the individual cell level, too. Time-lapse microscopy movies in such structures give insights about spatio-temporal developments of sub-populations (see image of a growing colony with a subpopulation of fluorescent bacteria) and subsequent image processing can convey their dynamics.


Main collaborators:
Joachim Krug, Köln
Arjan de Visser, Wageningen