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posted on 19.03.2018 by Claudia Ibacache-Quiroga, Juan C. Oliveros, Alejandro Couce, Jesus Blázquez

Antibiotic resistance is a major concern in public health worldwide, thus there is much interest in characterizing the mutational pathways through which susceptible bacteria evolve resistance. Here we use experimental evolution to explore the mutational pathways toward aminoglycoside resistance, using gentamicin as a model, under low and high mutation supply rates. Our results show that both normo and hypermutable strains of Escherichia coli are able to develop resistance to drug dosages > 1,000-fold higher than the minimal inhibitory concentration for their ancestors. Interestingly, such level of resistance was often associated with changes in susceptibility to other antibiotics, most prominently with increased resistance to fosfomycin. Whole-genome sequencing revealed that all resistant derivatives presented diverse mutations in five common genetic elements: fhuA, fusA and the atpIBEFHAGDC, cyoABCDE, and potABCD operons. Despite the large number of mutations acquired, hypermutable strains did not pay, apparently, fitness cost. In contrast to recent studies, we found that the mutation supply rate mainly affected the speed (tempo) but not the pattern (mode) of evolution: both backgrounds acquired the mutations in the same order, although the hypermutator strain did it faster. This observation is compatible with the adaptive landscape for high-level gentamicin resistance being relatively smooth, with few local maxima; which might be a common feature among antibiotics for which resistance involves multiple loci.