What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger: can Fisher’s Geometric model predict antibiotic resistance evolution?
Fisher's geometrical model and the mutational patterns of antibiotic resistance across dose gradients
The increasing number of reported cases of antibiotic resistance is one of today’s major public health concerns. Dealing with this threat involves understanding what drives the evolution of antibiotic resistance and investigating whether we can predict (and subsequently avoid or circumvent) it .
One of the most illustrative and common models of adaptation (and, hence, resistance evolution) is Fisher’s Geometric Model (FGM). The original model maps phenotypes to fitness, meaning that each point in the fitness landscape corresponds to a phenotype rather than a genotype. However, it has been shown that when mutations are numerous enough, FGM can also describe adaptive walks in genotype space . Nevertheless, limitations have been highlighted, particularly when trying to study complex scenarios such as antibiotic resistance evolution .
Harmand et al.  incorporated three extensions to the FGM, which allowed them to match the mutational patterns of antibiotic resistance that they obtained from a screen across a gradient of drug concentrations. The implemented extensions took into account that: 1) only a subset of mutations may contribute to traits under selection, reflecting that not all regions in the genome affect the ability to resist antibiotics; 2) mutations that confer a fitness increase in one environment may not reflect a similar increase in others, if the selective constraints are different; and 3) different antibiotic concentrations may either constrain the maximum fitness that populations can reach (changing the height of the fitness peak) or change the rate of fitness increase with each mutation (changing the width/slope of the peak).
Traditionally, most empirical fitness landscape studies have focused on a subset of mutations obtained after laboratory evolution in specific conditions [5, 6]. The results obtained in Harmand et al.  indicate a potential shortcoming of studying these small fitness landscapes: rather than having a constrained evolutionary path to a resistant phenotype, as previously observed, their results suggest that antibiotic resistance can be the product of mutations in different regions of the genome. Returning to the fitness landscape perspective, this indicates that there are many alternative paths that can lead to the evolution of antibiotic resistance. This comparison points at a difficult challenge when aiming at developing a predictive framework for evolution: real-time experiments may indicate that evolution is likely to take similar and predictable paths because the strongest and most frequent mutations dictate the outcome, whereas systematic screens of mutants potentially indicate several paths, that may, however, not be relevant in nature. Only a combination of different experimental approaches with motivated theory as presented in Harmand et al.  will allow for a better understanding of where in this continuum evolution is taking place in nature, and to which degree we are able to interfere with it in order to slow down adaptation.
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Inês Fragata and Claudia Bank (2017) What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger: can Fisher’s Geometric model predict antibiotic resistance evolution?. Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology, 100028. 10.24072/pci.evolbiol.100028