• Positive Selection Inhibits Plasmid Coexistence in Bacterial Genomes.

      Carrilero, Laura; Kottara, Anastasia; Guymer, David; Harrison, Ellie; orcid: 0000-0002-2050-4631; Hall, James P J; Brockhurst, Michael A; orcid: 0000-0003-0362-820X; email: michael.brockhurst@manchester.ac.uk (2021-05-11)
      Plasmids play an important role in bacterial evolution by transferring niche-adaptive functional genes between lineages, thus driving genomic diversification. Bacterial genomes commonly contain multiple, coexisting plasmid replicons, which could fuel adaptation by increasing the range of gene functions available to selection and allowing their recombination. However, plasmid coexistence is difficult to explain because the acquisition of plasmids typically incurs high fitness costs for the host cell. Here, we show that plasmid coexistence was stably maintained without positive selection for plasmid-borne gene functions and was associated with compensatory evolution to reduce fitness costs. In contrast, with positive selection, plasmid coexistence was unstable despite compensatory evolution. Positive selection discriminated between differential fitness benefits of functionally redundant plasmid replicons, retaining only the more beneficial plasmid. These data suggest that while the efficiency of negative selection against plasmid fitness costs declines over time due to compensatory evolution, positive selection to maximize plasmid-derived fitness benefits remains efficient. Our findings help to explain the forces structuring bacterial genomes: coexistence of multiple plasmids in a genome is likely to require either rare positive selection in nature or nonredundancy of accessory gene functions among the coexisting plasmids. Bacterial genomes often contain multiple coexisting plasmids that provide important functions like antibiotic resistance. Using lab experiments, we show that such plasmid coexistence within a genome is stable only in environments where the function they encode is useless but is unstable if the function is useful and beneficial for bacterial fitness. Where competing plasmids perform the same useful function, only the most beneficial plasmid is kept by the cell, a process that is similar to competitive exclusion in ecological communities. This process helps explain how bacterial genomes are structured: bacterial genomes expand in size by acquiring multiple plasmids when selection is relaxed but subsequently contract during periods of strong selection for the useful plasmid-encoded function. [Abstract copyright: Copyright © 2021 Carrilero et al.]