It is frequently assumed that populations of genetically modified microorganisms will perform their intended function and then disappear from the environment due to inherent fitness disadvantages resulting from their genetic alteration. However, modified organisms used in bioremediation can be expected to adapt evolutionarily to growth on the anthropogenic substrate that they are intended to degrade. If such adaptation results in improved competitiveness for alternative, naturally occurring substrates, then this will increase the likelihood that the modified organisms will persist in the environment. In this study, bacteria capable of degrading the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) were used to test the effects of evolutionary adaptation to one substrate on fitness during growth on an alternative substrate. Twenty lineages of bacteria were allowed to evolve under abundant resource conditions on either 2,4-D or succinate as their sole carbon source. The competitiveness of each evolved line was then measured relative to that of its ancestor for growth on both substrates. Only three derived lines showed a clear drop in fitness on the alternative substrate after demonstrable adaptation to their selective substrate, while five derived lines showed significant simultaneous increases in fitness on both their selective and alternative substrates. These data demonstrate that adaptation to an anthropogenic substrate can pleiotropically increase competitiveness for an alternative natural substrate and therefore increase the likelihood that a genetically modified organism will persist in the environment
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