Coupling high-throughput genetics with phylogenetic information reveals an epistatic interaction on the influenza A virus M segment

Nicholas C. Wu, Yushen Du, Shuai Le, Arthur P. Young, Tian Hao Zhang, Yuanyuan Wang, Jian Zhou, Janice M. Yoshizawa, Ling Dong, Xinmin Li, Ting Ting Wu, Ren Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Epistasis is one of the central themes in viral evolution due to its importance in drug resistance, immune escape, and interspecies transmission. However, there is a lack of experimental approach to systematically probe for epistatic residues. Results: By utilizing the information from natural occurring sequences and high-throughput genetics, this study established a novel strategy to identify epistatic residues. The rationale is that a substitution that is deleterious in one strain may be prevalent in nature due to the presence of a naturally occurring compensatory substitution. Here, high-throughput genetics was applied to influenza A virus M segment to systematically identify deleterious substitutions. Comparison with natural sequence variation showed that a deleterious substitution M1 Q214H was prevalent in circulating strains. A coevolution analysis was then performed and indicated that M1 residues 121, 207, 209, and 214 naturally coevolved as a group. Subsequently, we experimentally validated that M1 A209T was a compensatory substitution for M1 Q214H. Conclusions: This work provided a proof-of-concept to identify epistatic residues by coupling high-throughput genetics with phylogenetic information. In particular, we were able to identify an epistatic interaction between M1 substitutions A209T and Q214H. This analytic strategy can potentially be adapted to study any protein of interest, provided that the information on natural sequence variants is available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number46
JournalBMC genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 12 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Coevolution analysis
  • Compensatory mutation
  • Fitness profiling
  • Mutagenesis
  • Natural sequence variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Genetics


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