Sometimes mutations in two genes produce a phenotype that is surprising in light of each mutation's individual effects. This phenomenon, which defines genetic interaction, can reveal functional relationships between genes and pathways. For example, double mutants with surprisingly slow growth define synergistic interactions that can identify compensatory pathways or protein complexes. Recent studies have used four mathematically distinct definitions of genetic interaction (here termed Product, Additive, Log, and Min). Whether this choice holds practical consequences has not been clear, because the definitions yield identical results under some conditions. Here, we show that the choice among alternative definitions can have profound consequences. Although 52% of known synergistic genetic interactions in Saccharomyces cerevisiae were inferred according to the Min definition, we find that both Product and Log definitions (shown here to be practically equivalent) are better than Min for identifying functional relationships. Additionally, we show that the Additive and Log definitions, each commonly used in population genetics, lead to differing conclusions related to the selective advantages of sexual reproduction. © 2008 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA.