Diaz-Colunga, Juan; Alvaro Sanchez and C. Brandon Ogbunugafor

Interactions between mutations (epistasis) can add substantial complexity to genotype-phenotype maps, hampering our ability to predict evolution. Yet, recent studies have shown that the fitness effect of a mutation can often be predicted from the fitness of its genetic background using simple, linear relationships. This phenomenon, termed global epistasis, has been leveraged to reconstruct fitness landscapes and infer adaptive trajectories in a wide variety of contexts. However, little attention has been paid to how patterns of global epistasis may be affected by environmental variation, despite this variation frequently being a major driver of evolution. This is particularly relevant for the evolution of drug resistance, where antimicrobial drugs may change the environment faced by pathogens and shape their adaptive trajectories in ways that can be difficult to predict. By analyzing a fitness landscape of four mutations in a gene encoding an essential enzyme of P. falciparum (a parasite cause of malaria), here we show that patterns of global epistasis can be strongly modulated by the concentration of a drug in the environment. Expanding on previous theoretical results, we demonstrate that this modulation can be quantitatively explained by how specific gene-by-gene interactions are modified by drug dose. Importantly, our results highlight the need to incorporate potential environmental variation into the global epistasis framework in order to predict adaptation in dynamic environments. Global epistasis can be used to reconstruct fitness landscapes and infer adaptive trajectories. Here, the authors investigate how environmental variation impacts patterns of global epistasis, finding that global epistasis in the malaria parasite P. falciparum can be modulated by drug concentration in the environment.