Variable Pleiotropic Effects From Mutations at the Same Locus Hamper Prediction of Fitness From a Fitness Component
Kim M. Pepin, Melanie A. Samuel, Holly A. Wichman


The relationship of genotype, fitness components, and fitness can be complicated by genetic effects such as pleiotropy and epistasis and by heterogeneous environments. However, because it is often difficult to measure genotype and fitness directly, fitness components are commonly used to estimate fitness without regard to genetic architecture. The small bacteriophage ϕX174 enables direct evaluation of genetic and environmental effects on fitness components and fitness. We used 15 mutants to study mutation effects on attachment rate and fitness in six hosts. The mutants differed from our lab strain of ϕX174 by only one or two amino acids in the major capsid protein (gpF, sites 101 and 102). The sites are variable in natural and experimentally evolved ϕX174 populations and affect phage attachment rate. Within the limits of detection of our assays, all mutations were neutral or deleterious relative to the wild type; 11 mutants had decreased host range. While fitness was predictable from attachment rate in most cases, 3 mutants had rapid attachment but low fitness on most hosts. Thus, some mutations had a pleiotropic effect on a fitness component other than attachment rate. In addition, on one host most mutants had high attachment rate but decreased fitness, suggesting that pleiotropic effects also depended on host. The data highlight that even in this simple, well-characterized system, prediction of fitness from a fitness component depends on genetic architecture and environment.


  • 2 Present address: Department of Molecular Microbiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110.

  • Communicating editor: S. W. Schaeffer

  • Received August 18, 2005.
  • Accepted November 22, 2005.
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