Random mutagenesis and phenotype screening provide a powerful method for dissecting microbial functions, but their results can be laborious to analyze experimentally. Each mutant strain may contain 50 - 100 random mutations, necessitating extensive functional experiments to determine which one causes the selected phenotype. To solve this problem, we propose a "Phenotype Sequencing" approach in which genes causing the phenotype can be identified directly from sequencing of multiple independent mutants. We developed a new computational analysis method showing that 1. causal genes can be identified with high probability from even a modest number of mutant genomes; 2. costs can be cut many-fold compared with a conventional genome sequencing approach via an optimized strategy of library-pooling (multiple strains per library) and tag-pooling (multiple tagged libraries per sequencing lane). We have performed extensive validation experiments on a set of E. coli mutants with increased isobutanol biofuel tolerance. We generated a range of sequencing experiments varying from 3 to 32 mutant strains, with pooling on 1 to 3 sequencing lanes. Our statistical analysis of these data (4099 mutations from 32 mutant genomes) successfully identified 3 genes (acrB, marC, acrA) that have been independently validated as causing this experimental phenotype. It must be emphasized that our approach reduces mutant sequencing costs enormously. Whereas a conventional genome sequencing experiment would have cost $7,200 in reagents alone, our Phenotype Sequencing design yielded the same information value for only $1200. In fact, our smallest experiments reliably identified acrB and marC at a cost of only $110 - $340.

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