1. Genetics and Genomics
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Single cell functional genomics reveals the importance of mitochondria in cell-to-cell phenotypic variation

  1. Riddhiman Dhar
  2. Alsu M Missarova
  3. Ben Lehner  Is a corresponding author
  4. Lucas B Carey  Is a corresponding author
  1. Center for Genomic Regulation, Spain
  2. Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2019;8:e38904 doi: 10.7554/eLife.38904


Mutations frequently have outcomes that differ across individuals, even when these individuals are genetically identical and share a common environment. Moreover, individual microbial and mammalian cells can vary substantially in their proliferation rates, stress tolerance, and drug resistance, with important implications for the treatment of infections and cancer. To investigate the causes of cell-to-cell variation in proliferation, we used a high-throughput automated microscopy assay to quantify the impact of deleting >1,500 genes in yeast. Mutations affecting mitochondria were particularly variable in their outcome. In both mutant and wild-type cells mitochondrial membrane potential - but not amount - varied substantially across individual cells and predicted cell-to-cell variation in proliferation, mutation outcome, stress tolerance, and resistance in a clinically used anti-fungal drug. These results suggest an important role for cell-to-cell variation in the state of an organelle in single cell phenotypic variation.

Data availability

RNA-sequencing data that support the findings of this study have been deposited in NCBI GEO with the accession code GSE104343

The following data sets were generated

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Riddhiman Dhar

    Systems Biology Program, Center for Genomic Regulation, Barcelona, Spain
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-4642-0492
  2. Alsu M Missarova

    Systems Biology Program, Center for Genomic Regulation, Barcelona, Spain
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-9472-2095
  3. Ben Lehner

    Systems Biology Program, Center for Genomic Regulation, Barcelona, Spain
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-8817-1124
  4. Lucas B Carey

    Department of Experimental and Health Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-7245-6379


H2020 European Research Council (616434)

  • Ben Lehner

AXA Research Fund

  • Ben Lehner

Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (BFU2011-26206)

  • Ben Lehner

Bettencourt Schueller Foundation

  • Ben Lehner

Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (BFU2015-68351-P))

  • Lucas B Carey


  • Ben Lehner
  • Lucas B Carey

Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung

  • Riddhiman Dhar

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Naama Barkai, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel

Publication history

  1. Received: June 4, 2018
  2. Accepted: January 13, 2019
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: January 14, 2019 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: February 7, 2019 (version 2)


© 2019, Dhar et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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Further reading

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    The virus SARS-CoV-2 can exploit biological vulnerabilities (e.g. host proteins) in susceptible hosts that predispose to the development of severe COVID-19.


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    Our analytic approach identified several known targets (e.g. ABO, OAS1), but also nominated new proteins such as soluble Fas (colocalisation probability >0.9, p=1 × 10-4), implicating Fas-mediated apoptosis as a potential target for COVID-19 risk. The polygenic (pan) and cis-Mendelian randomisation analyses showed consistent associations of genetically predicted ABO protein with several COVID-19 phenotypes. The ABO signal is highly pleiotropic, and a look-up of proteins associated with the ABO signal revealed that the strongest association was with soluble CD209. We demonstrated experimentally that CD209 directly interacts with the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, suggesting a mechanism that could explain the ABO association with COVID-19.


    Our work provides a prioritised list of host targets potentially exploited by SARS-CoV-2 and is a precursor for further research on CD209 and FAS as therapeutically tractable targets for COVID-19.


    MAK, JSc, JH, AB, DO, MC, EMM, MG, ID were funded by Open Targets. J.Z. and T.R.G were funded by the UK Medical Research Council Integrative Epidemiology Unit (MC_UU_00011/4). JSh and GJW were funded by the Wellcome Trust Grant 206194. This research was funded in part by the Wellcome Trust [Grant 206194]. For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission.