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Genetics. 2017 Jul;206(3):1645-1657. doi: 10.1534/genetics.116.195180. Epub 2017 May 11.

Resolving the Complex Genetic Basis of Phenotypic Variation and Variability of Cellular Growth.

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Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, New York University, New York.
Department of Biology, New York University, New York 10003.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of California, San Francisco, California 94158.
Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, New York University, New York


In all organisms, the majority of traits vary continuously between individuals. Explaining the genetic basis of quantitative trait variation requires comprehensively accounting for genetic and nongenetic factors as well as their interactions. The growth of microbial cells can be characterized by a lag duration, an exponential growth phase, and a stationary phase. Parameters that characterize these growth phases can vary among genotypes (phenotypic variation), environmental conditions (phenotypic plasticity), and among isogenic cells in a given environment (phenotypic variability). We used a high-throughput microscopy assay to map genetic loci determining variation in lag duration and exponential growth rate in growth rate-limiting and nonlimiting glucose concentrations, using segregants from a cross of two natural isolates of the budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae We find that some quantitative trait loci (QTL) are common between traits and environments whereas some are unique, exhibiting gene-by-environment interactions. Furthermore, whereas variation in the central tendency of growth rate or lag duration is explained by many additive loci, differences in phenotypic variability are primarily the result of genetic interactions. We used bulk segregant mapping to increase QTL resolution by performing whole-genome sequencing of complex mixtures of an advanced intercross mapping population grown in selective conditions using glucose-limited chemostats. We find that sequence variation in the high-affinity glucose transporter HXT7 contributes to variation in growth rate and lag duration. Allele replacements of the entire locus, as well as of a single polymorphic amino acid, reveal that the effect of variation in HXT7 depends on genetic, and allelic, background. Amplifications of HXT7 are frequently selected in experimental evolution in glucose-limited environments, but we find that HXT7 amplifications result in antagonistic pleiotropy that is absent in naturally occurring variants of HXT7 Our study highlights the complex nature of the genotype-to-phenotype map within and between environments.


HXT7; bulk segregant mapping; microcolony; quantitative trait locus; yeast

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