Genetic background affects epistatic interactions between two beneficial mutations

Biol Lett. 2013 Feb 23;9(1):20120328. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0328. Epub 2012 Aug 15.


The phenotypic effect of mutations can depend on their genetic background, a phenomenon known as epistasis. Many experimental studies have found that epistasis is pervasive, and some indicate that it may follow a general pattern dependent on the fitness effect of the interacting mutations. These studies have, however, typically examined the effect of interactions between a small number of focal mutations in a single genetic background. Here, we extend this approach by considering how the interaction between two beneficial mutations that were isolated from a population of laboratory evolved Escherichia coli changes when they are added to divergent natural isolate strains of E. coli. We find that interactions between the focal mutations and the different genetic backgrounds are common. Moreover, the pair-wise interaction between the focal mutations also depended on their genetic background, being more negative in backgrounds with higher absolute fitness. Together, our results indicate the presence of interactions between focal mutations, but also caution that these interactions depend quantitatively on the wider genetic background.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type I / genetics*
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type I / metabolism
  • Epistasis, Genetic*
  • Escherichia coli / enzymology
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development
  • Genetic Fitness*
  • Genotype
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation*
  • Pyruvate Kinase / genetics*
  • Pyruvate Kinase / metabolism
  • Selection, Genetic


  • Pyruvate Kinase
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type I