Diverse organisms including microbes have evolved mechanisms to gain fitness advantage by sensing an environmental cue to anticipate and prepare in advance for a future selective pressure, a strategy known as adaptive prediction (AP). AP is generally beneficial to microbes as it can confer fitness advantage over competitors, facilitate competition for resources, and help with evasion of predators or host-defense systems. However, AP can become disadvantageous in poorly structured environments or those with unpredictable patterns of change, especially when the advanced preparedness is maladaptive. In fact, it takes just a few hundred generations in a novel environment for E. coli to lose its capability to predict a downshift in oxygen upon sensing an upshift in temperature.
While prior studies have demonstrated the existence of AP and the rapidity with which it is lost, emergence of this behavior has not previously been reported under laboratory controlled conditions, making it challenging to elucidate its evolutionary and mechanistic underpinnings. In this project, we are investigating the timeframe over which AP emerges when an organism encounters an environment with novel structure.