Rapid Evolution of Bacteria
Bacteria have very short generation times, allowing for rapid adaptation to changing environments. Mutations occur frequently, creating genetic variability within populations.
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4. • Bacteria, relative to humans, have very short generation times . A generation time is the time it takes to go from one generation to the next. For example, in humans, it takes on average about 20 years to go from the birth of a child to the birth of that child’s child. Therefore, the generation time for humans is approximately 20 years. Contrast this with the average bacterial generation time of hours or even minutes! Under favorable conditions, a single bacterial cell will very quickly reproduce into a colony containing many generations of its offspring and their offspring. These colonies can have so many individual cells that, within hours or days, it will be large enough to see with the naked eye. Organisms with fast generation times, like bacteria, have the capacity for very rapid adaptation to a changing environment . Since evolutionary change occurs across generations, organisms with fast generation times (like bacteria) can evolve much faster than organisms with slow generation times (like humans). Some bacteria species can go through thousands of generations in a single year. • Bacterial populations are also very high in numbers and are quite genetically variable . Mutations are the primary source of genetic variation. Mutations (accidents in DNA replication) are rare events. In bacteria, a mutation at a particular gene occurs on average once in about every 10,000,000 cell divisions. Since bacteria are so numerous and divide so often, even these rare events actually occur quite often. As an example, E. coli cells in a human colon divide 2 x 1010 times every day. That means that every day in an E. coli population, approximately 2000 cells will have a mutation at a particular gene 5 . So, even though mutations are rare events, they occur often enough in bacterial populations to create a lot of genetic variation within populations .
5. • Mutation is not the only way that a bacterium can acquire a resistance gene. Bacteria have three other methods of acquiring genes that sexual organisms (like us) do not have. Bacteria can pick up pieces of DNA (containing genes) from their environment (transformation), they can obtain a gene from another bacterium (conjugation), and genes can also be transferred to a bacterium by a virus (transduction). So, even if a resistance gene does not occur through mutation, it can be acquired through one of these methods. • To summarize, bacterial populations evolve resistance to antibiotics so quickly because of their fast generation times, large population sizes, and unique methods of gene acquisition . These are some of the reasons that bacteria have been so evolutionarily successful.
6. So what happens if a bacterial cell has a mutation that allows it to resist the effect of an antibiotic? If that bacterium is in the presence of the antibiotic, then it will have an advantage: the drug will not kill it! It will be able to reproduce, while the susceptible bacteria (which are inhibited or killed by the antibiotic) will not. In the presence of the antibiotic, the resistant mutant has a selective (reproductive) advantage over normal cells 3 . Originally, most or all bacteria in the population were susceptible to the antibiotic 4 . Over many generations, the resistant type will make up a greater and greater percentage of the population. Eventually, most or all of the individuals in the bacterial population will be resistant to the antibiotic. The population has evolved resistance due to natural selection by antibiotics: the genetic structure of the population has changed, from susceptible to the antibiotic to resistant to the antibiotic.
7. Can you explain how natural selection is acting on this population?
8. This next case study is what you will discuss during your mingle
9. You are infected with a bacterial disease. Your sister had this same illness last week, and took a full cycle of antibiotics. She quickly became better. You started taking the same antibiotic, but they had no effect. In fact, you had to return to the doctor after a week, because you did not feel better. What has happened? Why did you remain sick after taking antibiotics, while your sister quickly recovered? There are three possible hypotheses: A) you developed a tolerance for the antibiotic (i.e. you experienced a non- genetic change that made you less sensitive to the effects of the antibiotic). B) the bacteria infecting you developed a tolerance for the antibiotic (i.e. individual bacteria experienced a non-genetic change that made them less sensitive to the effects of the antibiotic). C) the bacteria infecting you evolved to be resistant to the antibiotic (i.e. a genetic mutation for resistance occurred in a bacterial cell, it had a reproductive advantage and increased in the population). a) Which hypothesis (A, B, or C) do you think is most likely? _________________ b) Explain why you chose this one.
10. • When you first visited your doctor, she told you that she is conducting research on antibiotics, and asked you to be a part of the study. You agree. • As part of the study, you go to the doctor every day and let her take a new sample from your infection, which she then conducts tests on. • She discovered that on the first day, your bacteria were susceptible to the antibiotic (i.e. the bacteria were killed by the antibiotic). • She then prescribed the antibiotic to you, which you immediately began taking. • Later in the week, the bacteria from your infection were found to be resistant to the antibiotic (i.e. the bacteria were not killed by the antibiotic). a) This result rules out which of the three hypotheses (A, B, or C)? ______________ b) Why does this result rule out this particular hypothesis?
11. Another result from the study is that initially, all the bacteria were susceptible to the antibiotic, but by the third day, some of the bacteria were resistant to the antibiotic. With each passing day, more of the bacteria were resistant, until finally all of the bacteria were resistant. a) Does this result support either (or both) of the remaining hypotheses? ________ b) Does it allow you to rule out either of them? ______________ c) Explain your answers to a) and b).
12. • Your doctor performs a DNA analysis of the bacteria causing your infection, and discovers that the resistant bacteria differ from the susceptible bacteria by one gene: the gene that encodes the protein on the bacterial cell that is the “target” of the antibiotic (the target site is the place in the bacterial cell where the antibiotic binds and does its dirty work). • The resistant bacteria have an altered form of this target site, with the result that the antibiotic is unable to bind to the target site, and thus is unable kill the bacterium. a) How did the resistant bacteria come to be different genetically from their susceptible ancestors? b) Which hypothesis does this result support? _______________ c) Why does this result support this particular hypothesis? Given all of the above evidence, which hypothesis (A, B, or C) do you think is most likely correct? Explain.
13. Watch--The Evolution of Antibiotic Resistance • http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/educators/lessons/lesson6/act1 .html
14. Natural selection in action—show off your diagram Wed