Background: The size of the phenotypic effect of a gene has been thoroughly investigated in terms of fitness and specific morphological traits in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but little is known about gross morphological abnormalities. Results: We identified 1126 holistic morphological effectors that cause severe gross morphological abnormality when deleted, and 2241 specific morphological effectors with weak holistic effects but distinctive effects on yeast morphology. Holistic effectors fell into many gene function categories and acted as network hubs, affecting a large number of morphological traits, interacting with a large number of genes, and facilitating high protein expression. Holistic morphological abnormality was useful for estimating the importance of a gene to morphology. The contribution of gene importance to fitness and morphology could be used to efficiently classify genes into functional groups. Conclusion: Holistic morphological abnormality can be used as a reproducible and reliable gene feature for high-dimensional morphological phenotyping. It can be used in many functional genomic applications.
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