Biophysical Fitness Landscapes for Transcription Factor Binding Sites
Allan Haldane, Michael Manhart, Alexandre V. Morozov
(Submitted on 3 Dec 2013)
Evolutionary trajectories and phenotypic states available to cell populations are ultimately dictated by intermolecular interactions between DNA, RNA, proteins, and other molecular species. Here we study how evolution of gene regulation in a single-cell eukaryote S. cerevisiae is affected by the interactions between transcription factors (TFs) and their cognate genomic sites. Our study is informed by high-throughput in vitro measurements of TF-DNA binding interactions and by a comprehensive collection of genomic binding sites. Using an evolutionary model for monomorphic populations evolving on a fitness landscape, we infer fitness as a function of TF-DNA binding energy for a collection of 12 yeast TFs, and show that the shape of the predicted fitness functions is in broad agreement with a simple thermodynamic model of two-state TF-DNA binding. However, the effective temperature of the model is not always equal to the physical temperature, indicating selection pressures in addition to biophysical constraints caused by TF-DNA interactions. We find little statistical support for the fitness landscape in which each position in the binding site evolves independently, showing that epistasis is common in evolution of gene regulation. Finally, by correlating TF-DNA binding energies with biological properties of the sites or the genes they regulate, we are able to rule out several scenarios of site-specific selection, under which binding sites of the same TF would experience a spectrum of selection pressures depending on their position in the genome. These findings argue for the existence of universal fitness landscapes which shape evolution of all sites for a given TF, and whose properties are determined in part by the physics of protein-DNA interactions.