Inference of symbiotic adaptations in nature using experimental evolution

WashU affiliated authors: Tyler Larsen, Cara Jefferson, Anthony Bartley, Joan E. Strassmann, David C. Queller (Dept. of Biology)

Abstract: Microbes must adapt to the presence of other species, but it can be difficult to recreate the natural context for these interactions in the laboratory. We describe a method for inferring the existence of symbiotic adaptations by experimentally evolving microbes that would normally interact in an artificial environment without access to other species. By looking for changes in the fitness effects microbes adapted to isolation have on their partners, we can infer the existence of ancestral adaptations that were lost during experimental evolution. The direction and magnitude of trait changes can offer useful insight as to whether the microbes have historically been selected to help or harm one another in nature. We apply our method to the complex symbiosis between the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum and two intracellular bacterial endosymbionts, Paraburkholderia agricolaris and Paraburkholderia hayleyella. Our results suggest P. hayleyella—but not P. agricolaris—has generally been selected to attenuate its virulence in nature, and that D. discoideum has evolved to antagonistically limit the growth of Paraburkholderia. The approach demonstrated here can be a powerful tool for studying adaptations in microbes, particularly when the specific natural context in which the adaptations evolved is unknown or hard to reproduce.