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G3 (Bethesda). 2016 Dec 7;6(12):4197-4210. doi: 10.1534/g3.116.035444.

Microenvironmental Gene Expression Plasticity Among Individual Drosophila melanogaster.

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Laboratory of Systems Genetics, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.
Section of Developmental Genomics, Laboratory of Cellular and Developmental Biology, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.
Laboratory of Systems Genetics, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892


Differences in phenotype among genetically identical individuals exposed to the same environmental condition are often noted in genetic studies. Despite this commonplace observation, little is known about the causes of this variability, which has been termed microenvironmental plasticity. One possibility is that stochastic or technical sources of variance produce these differences. A second possibility is that this variation has a genetic component. We have explored gene expression robustness in the transcriptomes of 730 individual Drosophila melanogaster of 16 fixed genotypes, nine of which are infected with Wolbachia Three replicates of flies were grown, controlling for food, day/night cycles, humidity, temperature, sex, mating status, social exposure, and circadian timing of RNA extraction. Despite the use of inbred genotypes, and carefully controlled experimental conditions, thousands of genes were differentially expressed, revealing a unique and dynamic transcriptional signature for each individual fly. We found that 23% of the transcriptome was differentially expressed among individuals, and that the variability in gene expression among individuals is influenced by genotype. This transcriptional variation originated from specific gene pathways, suggesting a plastic response to the microenvironment; but there was also evidence of gene expression differences due to stochastic fluctuations. These observations reveal previously unappreciated genetic sources of variability in gene expression among individuals, which has implications for complex trait genetics and precision medicine.


Drosophila; RNA-Seq; interindividual variation; microenvironmental plasticity; plasticity

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