Epistasis Blog

From the Computational Genetics Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania (www.epistasis.org)

Monday, September 14, 2009

A developmental systems perspective on epistasis

This is a very interesting paper on a developmental systems perspective on epistasis.

GutiƩrrez J. A developmental systems perspective on epistasis: computational exploration of mutational interactions in model developmental regulatory networks. PLoS One. 2009 Sep 7;4(9):e6823. [PubMed]


The way in which the information contained in genotypes is translated into complex phenotypic traits (i.e. embryonic expression patterns) depends on its decoding by a multilayered hierarchy of biomolecular systems (regulatory networks). Each layer of this hierarchy displays its own regulatory schemes (i.e. operational rules such as +/- feedback) and associated control parameters, resulting in characteristic variational constraints. This process can be conceptualized as a mapping issue, and in the context of highly-dimensional genotype-phenotype mappings (GPMs) epistatic events have been shown to be ubiquitous, manifested in non-linear correspondences between changes in the genotype and their phenotypic effects. In this study I concentrate on epistatic phenomena pervading levels of biological organization above the genetic material, more specifically the realm of molecular networks. At this level, systems approaches to studying GPMs are specially suitable to shed light on the mechanistic basis of epistatic phenomena. To this aim, I constructed and analyzed ensembles of highly-modular (fully interconnected) networks with distinctive topologies, each displaying dynamic behaviors that were categorized as either arbitrary or functional according to early patterning processes in the Drosophila embryo. Spatio-temporal expression trajectories in virtual syncytial embryos were simulated via reaction-diffusion models. My in silico mutational experiments show that: 1) the average fitness decay tendency to successively accumulated mutations in ensembles of functional networks indicates the prevalence of positive epistasis, whereas in ensembles of arbitrary networks negative epistasis is the dominant tendency; and 2) the evaluation of epistatic coefficients of diverse interaction orders indicates that, both positive and negative epistasis are more prevalent in functional networks than in arbitrary ones. Overall, I conclude that the phenotypic and fitness effects of multiple perturbations are strongly conditioned by both the regulatory architecture (i.e. pattern of coupled feedback structures) and the dynamic nature of the spatio-temporal expression trajectories displayed by the simulated networks.


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