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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Mar 12;116(11):5045-5054. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1820915116. Epub 2019 Feb 25.

Complex modifier landscape underlying genetic background effects.

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Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5S 3E1, Canada;
Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5S 3E1, Canada.
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, MA 02142.


The phenotypic consequence of a given mutation can be influenced by the genetic background. For example, conditional gene essentiality occurs when the loss of function of a gene causes lethality in one genetic background but not another. Between two individual Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains, S288c and Σ1278b, ∼1% of yeast genes were previously identified as "conditional essential." Here, in addition to confirming that some conditional essential genes are modified by a nonchromosomal element, we show that most cases involve a complex set of genomic modifiers. From tetrad analysis of S288C/Σ1278b hybrid strains and whole-genome sequencing of viable hybrid spore progeny, we identified complex sets of multiple genomic regions underlying conditional essentiality. For a smaller subset of genes, including CYS3 and CYS4, each of which encodes components of the cysteine biosynthesis pathway, we observed a segregation pattern consistent with a single modifier associated with conditional essentiality. In natural yeast isolates, we found that the CYS3/CYS4 conditional essentiality can be caused by variation in two independent modifiers, MET1 and OPT1, each with roles associated with cellular cysteine physiology. Interestingly, the OPT1 allelic variation appears to have arisen independently from separate lineages, with rare allele frequencies below 0.5%. Thus, while conditional gene essentiality is usually driven by genetic interactions associated with complex modifier architectures, our analysis also highlights the role of functionally related, genetically independent, and rare variants.


background effect; complex modifier interactions; conditional gene essentiality; rare variants

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