Lambros, Maryl; Ximo Pechuan-Jorge; Daniel Biro; Kenny Ye and Aviv Bergman

Generalists and specialists are types of strategies individuals can employ that can evolve in fluctuating environments depending on the extremity and periodicity of the fluctuation. To evaluate whether the evolution of specialists or generalists occurs under environmental fluctuation regimes with different levels of periodicity, 24 populations of Escherichia coli underwent laboratory evolution with temperatures alternating between 15 and 43 degrees C in three fluctuation regimes: two periodic regimes dependent on culture's cell density and one random (non-periodic) regime with no such dependency, serving as a control. To investigate contingencies on the genetic background, we seeded our experiment with two different strains. After the experiment, growth rate measurements at the two temperatures showed that the evolution of specialists was favored in the random regime, while generalists were favored in the periodic regimes. Whole genome sequencing demonstrated that several gene mutations were selected in parallel in the evolving populations with some dependency on the starting genetic background. Given the genes mutated, we hypothesized that the driving force behind the observed adaptations is the restoration of the internal physiology of the starting strains' unstressed states at 37 degrees C, which may be a means of improving fitness in the new environments. Phenotypic array measurements supported our hypothesis by demonstrating a tendency of the phenotypic response of the evolved strains to move closer to the starting strains' response at the optimum of 37 degrees C, especially for strains classified as generalists.