The ability of a genotype to show diverse phenotypes in different environments is called phenotypic plasticity. Phenotypic plasticity helps populations to evade extinctions in novel environments, facilitates adaptation and fuels evolution. However, most studies focus on understanding the genetic basis of phenotypic regulation in specific environments. As a result, while it's evolutionary relevance is well established, genetic mechanisms regulating phenotypic plasticity and their overlap with the environment specific regulators is not well understood. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is highly sensitive to the environment, which acts as not just external stimulus but also as signalling cue for this unicellular, sessile organism. We used a previously published dataset of a biparental yeast population grown in 34 diverse environments and mapped genetic loci regulating variation in phenotypic plasticity, plasticity QTL, and compared them with environment-specific QTL. Plasticity QTL is one whose one allele exhibits high plasticity whereas the other shows a relatively canalised behaviour. We mapped phenotypic plasticity using two parameters - environmental variance, an environmental order-independent parameter and reaction norm (slope), an environmental order-dependent parameter. Our results show a partial overlap between pleiotropic QTL and plasticity QTL such that while some plasticity QTL are also pleiotropic, others have a significant effect on phenotypic plasticity without being significant in any environment independently. Furthermore, while some plasticity QTL are revealed only in specific environmental orders, we identify large effect plasticity QTL, which are order-independent such that whatever the order of the environments, one allele is always plastic and the other is canalised. Finally, we show that the environments can be divided into two categories based on the phenotypic diversity of the population within them and the two categories have differential regulators of phenotypic plasticity. Our results highlight the importance of identifying genetic regulators of phenotypic plasticity to comprehensively understand the genotype-phenotype map.
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