Integrating GWAS and Transcriptomics to Identify the Molecular Underpinnings of Thermal Stress Responses in Drosophila melanogaster

Melise C. Lecheta, David N. Awde, Thomas S. O’Leary, Laura N. Unfried, Nicholas A. Jacobs, Miles H. Whitlock, Eleanor McCabe, Beck Powers, Katie Bora, James S. Waters, Heather J. Axen, Seth Frietze, Brent L. Lockwood, Nicholas M. Teets, Sara H. Cahan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Thermal tolerance of an organism depends on both the ability to dynamically adjust to a thermal stress and preparatory developmental processes that enhance thermal resistance. However, the extent to which standing genetic variation in thermal tolerance alleles influence dynamic stress responses vs. preparatory processes is unknown. Here, using the model species Drosophila melanogaster, we used a combination of Genome Wide Association mapping (GWAS) and transcriptomic profiling to characterize whether genes associated with thermal tolerance are primarily involved in dynamic stress responses or preparatory processes that influence physiological condition at the time of thermal stress. To test our hypotheses, we measured the critical thermal minimum (CTmin) and critical thermal maximum (CTmax) of 100 lines of the Drosophila Genetic Reference Panel (DGRP) and used GWAS to identify loci that explain variation in thermal limits. We observed greater variation in lower thermal limits, with CTmin ranging from 1.81 to 8.60°C, while CTmax ranged from 38.74 to 40.64°C. We identified 151 and 99 distinct genes associated with CTmin and CTmax, respectively, and there was strong support that these genes are involved in both dynamic responses to thermal stress and preparatory processes that increase thermal resistance. Many of the genes identified by GWAS were involved in the direct transcriptional response to thermal stress (72/151 for cold; 59/99 for heat), and overall GWAS candidates were more likely to be differentially expressed than other genes. Further, several GWAS candidates were regulatory genes that may participate in the regulation of stress responses, and gene ontologies related to development and morphogenesis were enriched, suggesting many of these genes influence thermal tolerance through effects on development and physiological status. Overall, our results suggest that thermal tolerance alleles can influence both dynamic plastic responses to thermal stress and preparatory processes that improve thermal resistance. These results also have utility for directly comparing GWAS and transcriptomic approaches for identifying candidate genes associated with thermal tolerance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number658
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
StatePublished - Jun 23 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2020 Lecheta, Awde, O’Leary, Unfried, Jacobs, Whitlock, McCabe, Powers, Bora, Waters, Axen, Frietze, Lockwood, Teets and Cahan.


  • CT
  • CT
  • cold shock
  • genomics
  • heat shock
  • thermal limit
  • transcriptomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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