Vasi, F. K., and R. E. Lenski. 1999. Ecological strategies and fitness tradeoffs in Escherichia coli mutants adapted to prolonged starvation. Journal of Genetics 78:43-49.

Many bacteria in nature are nutritionally deprived, and there has been heightened interest during the past decade in the properties of these bacteria. We subjected five populations of Escherichia coli to prolonged starvation in a minimal salts medium, during which time the density of viable cells declined by several orders of magnitude. From each one, we isolated a surviving clone that showed some heritable difference in colony morphology. We then characterized these mutants in two ecologically relevant respects. First, we determined the nature of their selective advantage, if any, during prolonged starvation. (i) Three of the five mutants had significantly lower net death rate when progenitor and mutant clones were starved separately. (ii) Three mutants showed a significant reduction in death rate in mixed culture that was frequency-dependent and manifest when the mutant clone was initially rare. This pattern suggests that these mutants fed on some byproduct of progenitor cells (living or dead). (iii) Two mutants caused the death rate of their progenitors to increase significantly relative to the rate measured in the absence of the mutant. This pattern suggests that these mutants had become allelopathic to their progenitors. Thus, three distinct ecological adaptations to prolonged starvation are evident. No advantage was detected for one mutant, whereas two mutants exhibited multiple advantages. Second, we asked whether the starvation-selected mutants were as fit in growth-supporting conditions as their progenitors. All five mutants were inferior to their progenitor during competition in fresh medium. Evidently, there is an evolutionary tradeoff between performance under growth and starvation conditions.