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PLOS Genetics


Cellulosic plant biomass is a promising sustainable resource for generating alternative biofuels and biochemicals with microbial factories. But a remaining bottleneck is engineering microbes that are tolerant of toxins generated during biomass processing, because mechanisms of toxin defense are only beginning to emerge. Here, we exploited natural diversity in 165 Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains isolated from diverse geographical and ecological niches, to identify mechanisms of hydrolysate-toxin tolerance. We performed genome-wide association (GWA) analysis to identify genetic variants underlying toxin tolerance, and gene knockouts and allele-swap experiments to validate the involvement of implicated genes. In the process of this work, we uncovered a surprising difference in genetic architecture depending on strain background: in all but one case, knockout of implicated genes had a significant effect on toxin tolerance in one strain, but no significant effect in another strain. In fact, whether or not the gene was involved in tolerance in each strain background had a bigger contribution to strain-specific variation than allelic differences. Our results suggest a major difference in the underlying network of causal genes in different strains, suggesting that mechanisms of hydrolysate tolerance are very dependent on the genetic background. These results could have significant implications for interpreting GWA results and raise important considerations for engineering strategies for industrial strain improvement.

Author Summary:

Understanding the genetic architecture of complex traits is important for elucidating the genotype-phenotype relationship. Many studies have sought genetic variants that underlie phenotypic variation across individuals, both to implicate causal variants and to inform on architecture. Here we used genome-wide association analysis to identify genes and processes involved in tolerance of toxins found in plant-biomass hydrolysate, an important substrate for sustainable biofuel production. We found substantial variation in whether or not individual genes were important for tolerance across genetic backgrounds. Whether or not a gene was important in a given strain background explained more variation than the alleleic differences in the gene. These results suggest substantial variation in gene contributions, and perhaps underlying mechanisms, of toxin tolerance.


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Copyright: © 2018 Sardi et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.



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