Evolution of microbial populations with spatial and environmental structure

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Miller, Eric Louis

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Rarely are natural conditions constant, but generally biologists study microbes in artificially constant environments in the laboratory. I relaxed these assumptions of constant environments through time and space as I investigated how microbial populations evolve. First, I examined how bacteriophage evolved in the presence of permissive and nonpermissive hosts. I found that bacteriophage evolved discrimina- tion in mixed environments as well as in one of two environments with homogeneous, permissive hosts. This showed the asymmetry of host-shifting in viruses as well as the possibility of large, and somewhat unpredictable, pleiotropic effects. Secondly, I reconstructed ancestral environmental conditions for soil bacteria groups using phy- logenetics and environmental variables of extant species’ habitats. These generaliza- tions suggested characteristic phenotypes for several phylogenetic groups, including uncultured Acidobacteria. Lastly, I collected genetic sequences and global collection information for 65 bacteria genera across the domain. In examining the relation- ship between genetic distance, environmental conditions, and geography, I observed positive relationships specifically between genetic distance and geography or genetic distance and environmental conditions for bacteria from land sites but not from wa- ter sites. Phylogenic classifications or phenotypes of the genera could not predict these correlations. In all of these projects, variations in the environment created evolutionary signals that hinted at past environments of microbial populations.



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