Artificial Gene Amplification in Escherichia coli Reveals Numerous Determinants for Resistance to Metal Toxicity

Kenric J. Hoegler, Michael H. Hecht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


When organisms are subjected to environmental challenges, including growth inhibitors and toxins, evolution often selects for the duplication of endogenous genes, whose overexpression can provide a selective advantage. Such events occur both in natural environments and in clinical settings. Microbial cells—with their large populations and short generation times—frequently evolve resistance to a range of antimicrobials. While microbial resistance to antibiotic drugs is well documented, less attention has been given to the genetic elements responsible for resistance to metal toxicity. To assess which overexpressed genes can endow gram-negative bacteria with resistance to metal toxicity, we transformed a collection of plasmids overexpressing all E. coli open reading frames (ORFs) into naive cells, and selected for survival in toxic concentrations of six transition metals: Cd, Co, Cu, Ni, Ag, Zn. These selections identified 48 hits. In each of these hits, the overexpression of an endogenous E. coli gene provided a selective advantage in the presence of at least one of the toxic metals. Surprisingly, the majority of these cases (28/48) were not previously known to function in metal resistance or homeostasis. These findings highlight the diverse mechanisms that biological systems can deploy to adapt to environments containing toxic concentrations of metals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-110
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Molecular Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology


  • Acquired resistance by gene duplication
  • Antimicrobial resistance
  • Evolution of resistance
  • Resistance to metal toxicity


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