Pervasive joint influence of epistasis and plasticity on mutational effects in Escherichia coli

Nat Genet. 2004 Apr;36(4):423-6. doi: 10.1038/ng1324.


The effects of mutations on phenotype and fitness may depend on the environment (phenotypic plasticity), other mutations (genetic epistasis) or both. Here we examine the fitness effects of 18 random insertion mutations in E. coli in two resource environments and five genetic backgrounds. We tested each mutation for plasticity and epistasis by comparing its fitness effects across these ecological and genetic contexts. Some mutations had no measurable effect in any of these contexts. None of the mutations had effects on phenotypic plasticity that were independent of genetic background. However, half the mutations had epistatic interactions such that their effects differed among genetic backgrounds, usually in an environment-dependent manner. Also, the pattern of mutational effects across backgrounds indicated that epistasis had been shaped primarily by unique events in the evolutionary history of a population rather than by repeatable events associated with shared environmental history.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Epistasis, Genetic*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional