Mutations frequently have outcomes that differ across individuals, even when these individuals are genetically identical and share a common environment. Moreover, individual microbial and mammalian cells can vary substantially in their proliferation rates, stress tolerance, and drug resistance, with important implications for the treatment of infections and cancer. To investigate the causes of cell-to-cell variation in proliferation, we developed a high-throughput automated microscopy assay and used it to quantify the impact of deleting >1,500 genes in yeast. Mutations affecting mitochondria were particularly variable in their outcome. In both mutant and wild-type cells mitochondria state – but not content – varied substantially across individual cells and predicted cell-to-cell variation in proliferation, mutation outcome, stress tolerance, and resistance to a clinically used anti-fungal drug. These results suggest an important role for cell-to-cell variation in the state of an organelle in single cell phenotypic variation.
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