Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a valuable model organism for the study of eukaryotic processes. Throughout its development as a research tool, several strain backgrounds have been utilized and different combinations of auxotrophic marker genes have been introduced into them, creating a useful but non-homogeneous set of strains. The ade2 allele was used as an auxotrophic marker, and for ‘red–white’ screening for respiratory competence. his3 alleles that influence the expression of MRM1 have been used as selectable markers, and the MIP1[S] allele, found in the commonly used S228c strain, is associated with mitochondrial DNA defects. The focus of the current work was to examine the effects of these alleles, singly and in combination, on the maintenance of mitochondrial function. The combination of the ade2 and MIP1[S] alleles is associated with a slight increase in point mutations in mitochondrial DNA. The deletion in the his3Δ200 allele, which removes the promoter for MRM1, is associated with loss of respiratory competence at 37 °C in the presence of either MIP1 allele. Thus, multiple factors can contribute to the maintenance of mitochondrial function, reinforcing the concept that strain background is an important consideration in both designing experiments and comparing results obtained by different research groups. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.