Many microorganisms face a fundamental trade-off between reproduction and survival: Rapid growth boosts population size but makes microorganisms sensitive to external stressors. Here, we show that starved bacteria encountering new resources can break this trade-off by evolving phenotypic heterogeneity in lag time. We quantify the distribution of single-cell lag times of populations of starved Escherichia coli and show that population growth after starvation is primarily determined by the cells with shortest lag due to the exponential nature of bacterial population dynamics. As a consequence, cells with long lag times have no substantial effect on population growth resumption. However, we observe that these cells provide tolerance to stressors such as antibiotics. This allows an isogenic population to break the trade-off between reproduction and survival. We support this argument with an evolutionary model which shows that bacteria evolve wide lag time distributions when both rapid growth resumption and survival under stressful conditions are under selection. Our results can explain the prevalence of antibiotic tolerance by lag and demonstrate that the benefits of phenotypic heterogeneity in fluctuating environments are particularly high when minorities with extreme phenotypes dominate population dynamics.
|Number of pages||8|
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America|
|Publication status||Published - 4-Aug-2020|