Pareto optimality between growth-rate and lag-time couples metabolic noise to phenotypic heterogeneity in Escherichia coli

Authors: Fuentes, D.A.F., Manfredi, P., Jenal, U., and Zampieri, M. 

Published in: Nature Communications 2021 Vol. 12 Issue 1

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-23522-0


Despite mounting evidence that in clonal bacterial populations, phenotypic variability originates from stochasticity in gene expression, little is known about noise-shaping evolutionary forces and how expression noise translates to phenotypic differences. Here we developed a high-throughput assay that uses a redox-sensitive dye to couple growth of thousands of bacterial colonies to their respiratory activity and show that in Escherichia coli, noisy regulation of lower glycolysis and citric acid cycle is responsible for large variations in respiratory metabolism. We found that these variations are Pareto optimal to maximization of growth rate and minimization of lag time, two objectives competing between fermentative and respiratory metabolism. Metabolome-based analysis revealed the role of respiratory metabolism in preventing the accumulation of toxic intermediates of branched chain amino acid biosynthesis, thereby supporting early onset of cell growth after carbon starvation. We propose that optimal metabolic tradeoffs play a key role in shaping and preserving phenotypic heterogeneity and adaptation to fluctuating environments.