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Pages 226–233
First published 20 July 2015

Evolving strategies for single-celled organisms in multi-nutrient environments

Dominique Chu and David J. Barnes


When micro-organisms are in environments with multiple nutrients, they often preferentially utilise one first. A second is only utilised once the first is exhausted. Such a two-phase growth pattern is known as diauxic growth. Experimentally, this manifests itself through two distinct exponential growth phases separated by a lag phase of arrested growth. The duration of the lag phase can be quite substantial. From an evolutionary point of view the existence of a lag phase is somewhat puzzling because it implies a substantial loss of growth opportunity. Mutants with shorter lag phases would be prone to outcompete those with longer phases. Yet in nature, diauxic growth with lag phases appears to be a robust phenomenon. We introduce a model of the evolution of diauxic growth that captures the basic interactions regulating it in bacteria. We observe its evolution without a lag phase. We conclude that the lag phase is an adaptation that is only beneficial when fitness is averaged over a large number of environments.