Critical reviews in microbiology vol:31 issue:2 pages:69-78
When challenged with unfavorable conditions, microorganisms can develop a stress response that allows them to adapt to or survive in the new environment. A common feature of the numerous specific stress response pathways that have been described in a wide range of bacteria is that they are energy demanding and therefore often transient. In addition, stress responses may come too late or be insufficient to protect the cell or the population against very sudden or severe stresses. However, it seems that microorganisms can also enhance their chances of survival under stress by increasing the generation of diversity at the population level. This can be achieved either by creating genetic diversity by a variety of mechanisms involving for example constitutive or transient mutators and contingency loci, or by revealing phenotypic diversity that remained dormant due to a mechanism called genetic buffering. This review gives an overview of these emerging diversity-generating mechanisms, which seem to play an important role in the ability of microbial populations to overcome stress challenges.