DNA variants that alter gene expression contribute to variation in many phenotypic traits. In particular, trans-acting variants, which are often located on different chromosomes from the genes they affect, are an important source of heritable gene expression variation. However, our knowledge about the identity and mechanism of causal trans-acting variants remains limited. Here, we developed a fine-mapping strategy called CRISPR-Swap and dissected three expression quantitative trait locus (eQTL) hotspots known to alter the expression of numerous genes in trans in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Causal variants were identified by engineering recombinant alleles and quantifying the effects of these alleles on the expression of a green fluorescent protein-tagged gene affected by the given locus in trans. We validated the effect of each variant on the expression of multiple genes by RNA-sequencing. The three variants differed in their molecular mechanism, the type of genes they reside in, and their distribution in natural populations. While a missense leucine-to-serine variant at position 63 in the transcription factor Oaf1 (L63S) was almost exclusively present in the reference laboratory strain, the two other variants were frequent among S. cerevisiae isolates. A causal missense variant in the glucose receptor Rgt2 (V539I) occurred at a poorly conserved amino acid residue and its effect was strongly dependent on the concentration of glucose in the culture medium. A noncoding variant in the conserved fatty acid regulated (FAR) element of the OLE1 promoter influenced the expression of the fatty acid desaturase Ole1 in cis and, by modulating the level of this essential enzyme, other genes in trans. The OAF1 and OLE1 variants showed a non-additive genetic interaction, and affected cellular lipid metabolism. These results demonstrate that the molecular basis of trans-regulatory variation is diverse, highlighting the challenges in predicting which natural genetic variants affect gene expression.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by National Institutes of Health (NIH; https://www.nih.gov) grant R35GM124676 to FWA. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. We thank Mahlon Collins, Randi Avery, Krisna Van Dyke, Joshua Bloom, and Meru Sadhu for critical reading and comments on the manuscript. We thank Leonid Kruglyak, David Kirkpatrick, Melissa Gardner, and Scott McIsaac for yeast strains and plasmids, and Anne Friedrich for help with the 1,011 yeast isolate genome data.