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Journal Article

Segregational instability of multicopy plasmids: a population genetics approach


Hernandez-Beltran,  J. Carlos R.       
Department Microbial Population Biology (Rainey), Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Hernandez-Beltran, J. C. R., Miró Pina, V., Siri‐Jégousse, A., Palau, S., Peña‐Miller, R., & González Casanova, A. (2022). Segregational instability of multicopy plasmids: a population genetics approach. Ecology and Evolution, 12(12): e9469. doi:10.1002/ece3.9469.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000D-4A52-4
Plasmids are extra-chromosomal genetic elements that encode a wide variety of phenotypes and can be maintained in bacterial populations through vertical and horizontal transmission, thus increasing bacterial adaptation to hostile environmental conditions like those imposed by antimicrobial substances. To circumvent the segregational instability resulting from randomly distributing plasmids between daughter cells upon division, nontransmissible plasmids tend to be carried in multiple copies per cell, with the added benefit of exhibiting increased gene dosage and resistance levels. But carrying multiple copies also results in a high metabolic burden to the bacterial host, therefore reducing the overall fitness of the population. This trade-off poses an existential question for plasmids: What is the optimal plasmid copy number? In this manuscript, we address this question by postulating and analyzing a population genetics model to evaluate the interaction between selective pressure, the number of plasmid copies carried by each cell, and the metabolic burden associated with plasmid bearing in the absence of selection for plasmid-encoded traits. Parameter values of the model were estimated experimentally using Escherichia coli K12 carrying a multicopy plasmid encoding for a fluorescent protein and blaTEM-1, a gene conferring resistance to β-lactam antibiotics. By numerically determining the optimal plasmid copy number for constant and fluctuating selection regimes, we show that plasmid copy number is a highly optimized evolutionary trait that depends on the rate of environmental fluctuation and balances the benefit between increased stability in the absence of selection with the burden associated with carrying multiple copies of the plasmid.