Genotype-environment interactions and their translational implications

Per Med. 2011 Jan;8(1):59-70. doi: 10.2217/pme.10.75.


Organisms frequently encounter different environmental conditions. The physiological and behavioral responses to these conditions depend on the genetic make up of individuals. Genotype generally remains constant from one environment to another, although occasional spontaneous mutations may occur which cause it to change. However, when the same genotype is subjected to different environments, it can produce a wide range of phenotypes. These phenotypic variations are attributable to the effect of the environment on the expression and function of genes influencing the trait. Changes in the relative performance of genotypes across different environments are referred to as genotype-environment interactions (GEI). A general argument for research on the impact of GEI in common diseases is that it provides insights into disease processes at the population, individual and molecular levels. In humans, GEI is complicated by multiple factors including phenocopies, genocopies, epigenetics and imprinting. A better understanding of GEI is essential if patients are to make informed health choices guided by their genomic information. In this article, we clarify the role of the environment on phenotype, we describe how human population structure can obscure the resolution of GEI and we discuss how emerging biobanks across the globe can be coordinated to further our understanding of genotype-phenotype associations within the context of varying environment.