Most phenotypes are determined by molecular systems composed of specifically interacting molecules. However, unlike for individual components, little is known about the distributions of mutational effects of molecular systems as a whole. We ask how the distribution of mutational effects of a transcriptional regulatory system differs from the distributions of its components, by first independently, and then simultaneously, mutating a transcription factor and the associated promoter it represses. We find that the system distribution exhibits increased phenotypic variation compared to individual component distributions - an effect arising from intermolecular epistasis between the transcription factor and its DNA-binding site. In large part, this epistasis can be qualitatively attributed to the structure of the transcriptional regulatory system, and could therefore be a common feature in prokaryotes. Counter-intuitively, intermolecular epistasis can alleviate the constraints of individual components, thereby increasing phenotypic variation that selection could act on and facilitating adaptive evolution.
- Mato Lagator
- Jonathan P Bollback
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.
- Patricia J Wittkopp, University of Michigan, United States
© 2017, Lagator et al.
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