Using gene map science to evaluate the genetic map and eliminate disease

Genetic News

Gametogenesis represents the most dramatic cellular differentiation pathways in both female and male flies. At the genome level, meiosis ensures that diploid germ cells become haploid gametes. At the epigenome level, extensive changes are required to turn on and shut off gene expression in a precise spatiotemporally controlled manner. Research applying conventional molecular genetics and cell biology, in combination with rapidly advancing genomic tools have helped us to investigate (1) how germ cells maintain lineage specificity throughout their adult reproductive lifetime; (2) what molecular mechanisms ensure proper oogenesis and spermatogenesis, as well as protect genome integrity of the germline; (3) how signaling pathways contribute to germline-soma communication; and (4) if such communication is important. In this chapter, we highlight recent discoveries that have improved our understanding of these questions. On the other hand, restarting a new life cycle upon fertilization is a unique challenge faced by gametes, raising questions that involve intergenerational and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. Therefore, we also discuss new developments that link changes during gametogenesis to early embryonic development—a rapidly growing field that promises to bring more understanding to some fundamental questions regarding metazoan development.

Since the founding of Drosophila genetics by Thomas Hunt Morgan and his colleagues over 100 years ago, the experimental induction of mosaicism has featured prominently in its recognition as an unsurpassed genetic model organism. The use of genetic mosaics has facilitated the discovery of a wide variety of developmental processes, identified specific cell lineages, allowed the study of recessive embryonic lethal mutations, and demonstrated the existence of cell competition. Here, we discuss how genetic mosaicism in Drosophila became an invaluable research tool that revolutionized developmental biology. We describe the prevailing methods used to produce mosaic animals, and highlight advantages and disadvantages of each genetic system. We cover methods ranging from simple "twin-spot" analysis to more sophisticated systems of multicolor labeling.

Chromatin is organized and compacted in the nucleus through the association of histones and other proteins, which together control genomic activity. Two broad types of chromatin can be distinguished: euchromatin, which is generally transcriptionally active, and heterochromatin, which is repressed. Here we examine the current state of our understanding of repressed chromatin in Caenorhabditis elegans, focusing on roles of histone modifications associated with repression, such as methylation of histone H3 lysine 9 (H3K9me2/3) or the Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (MES-2/3/6)-deposited modification H3K27me3, and on proteins that recognize these modifications. Proteins involved in chromatin repression are important for development, and have demonstrated roles in nuclear organization, repetitive element silencing, genome integrity, and the regulation of euchromatin. Additionally, chromatin factors participate in repression with small RNA pathways. Recent findings shed light on heterochromatin function and regulation in C. elegans, and should inform our understanding of repressed chromatin in other animals.

Developing the karyotype of a eukaryotic species relies on identification of individual chromosomes, which has been a major challenge for most nonmodel plant and animal species. We developed a novel chromosome identification system by selecting and labeling oligonucleotides (oligos) located in specific regions on every chromosome. We selected a set of 54,672 oligos (45 nt) based on single copy DNA sequences in the potato genome. These oligos generated 26 distinct FISH signals that can be used as a "bar code" or "banding pattern" to uniquely label each of the 12 chromosomes from both diploid and polyploid (4x and 6x) potato species. Remarkably, the same bar code can be used to identify the 12 homeologous chromosomes among distantly related Solanum species, including tomato and eggplant. Accurate karyotypes based on individually identified chromosomes were established in six Solanum species that have diverged for >15 MY. These six species have maintained a similar karyotype; however, modifications to the FISH signal bar code led to the discovery of two reciprocal chromosomal translocations in Solanum etuberosum and S. caripense. We also validated these translocations by oligo-based chromosome painting. We demonstrate that the oligo-based FISH techniques are powerful new tools for chromosome identification and karyotyping research, especially for nonmodel plant species.

Gene-by-gene interactions, also known as epistasis, regulate many complex traits in different species. With the availability of low-cost genotyping it is now possible to study epistasis on a genome-wide scale. However, identifying genome-wide epistasis is a high-dimensional multiple regression problem and needs the application of dimensionality reduction techniques. Flowering Time (FT) in crops is a complex trait that is known to be influenced by many interacting genes and pathways in various crops. In this study, we successfully apply Sure Independence Screening (SIS) for dimensionality reduction to identify two-way and three-way epistasis for the FT trait in a Multiparent Advanced Generation Inter-Cross (MAGIC) barley population using the Bayesian multilocus model. The MAGIC barley population was generated from intercrossing among eight parental lines and thus, offered greater genetic diversity to detect higher-order epistatic interactions. Our results suggest that SIS is an efficient dimensionality reduction approach to detect high-order interactions in a Bayesian multilocus model. We also observe that many of our findings (genomic regions with main or higher-order epistatic effects) overlap with known candidate genes that have been already reported in barley and closely related species for the FT trait.

Subtelomeric regions have several unusual characteristics, including complex repetitive structures, increased rates of evolution, and enrichment for genes involved in niche adaptation. The adaptive telomere failure hypothesis suggests that certain environmental stresses can induce a low level of telomere failure, potentially leading to elevated subtelomeric recombination that could result in adaptive mutational changes within subtelomeric genes. Here, we tested a key prediction of the adaptive telomere failure hypothesis—that telomere dysfunction mild enough to have little or no overall effect on cell fitness could still lead to substantial increases in the mutation rates of subtelomeric genes. Our results show that a mutant of Kluyveromyces lactis with stably short telomeres produced a large increase in the frequency of mutations affecting the native subtelomeric β-galactosidase (LAC4) gene. All lac4 mutants examined from strains with severe telomere dysfunction underwent terminal deletion/duplication events consistent with being due to break-induced replication. In contrast, although cells with mild telomere dysfunction also exhibited similar terminal deletion and duplication events, up to 50% of lac4 mutants from this background unexpectedly contained base changes within the LAC4 coding region. This mutational bias for producing base changes demonstrates that mild telomere dysfunction can be well suited as a force for altering the adaptive potential of subtelomeric genes.

The purpose of germ cells is to ensure the faithful transmission of genetic material to the next generation. To develop into mature gametes, germ cells must pass through cell cycle checkpoints while maintaining totipotency and genomic integrity. How germ cells coordinate developmental events while simultaneously protecting their unique fate is not well understood. Here, we characterize a novel nuclear protein, Oocyte-Excluded Factor-1 (OEF-1), with highly specific germline expression in Caenorhabditis elegans. OEF-1 is initially detected early in embryogenesis and is expressed in the nuclei of all germ cells during larval stages. In adults, OEF-1 expression abruptly decreases just prior to oocyte differentiation. In oef-1 mutants, the developmental progression of germ cells is accelerated, resulting in subtle defects at multiple stages of germ cell development. Lastly, OEF-1 is primarily associated with the bodies of germline-expressed genes, and as such is excluded from the X chromosome. We hypothesize that OEF-1 may regulate the rate of progression through germ cell development, providing insight into how these critical maturation events are coordinated.

Mitotic fidelity is ensured by achieving biorientation on all paired chromosomes. The key signal for proper chromosome alignment is the tension between sister chromatids created by opposing poleward force from the spindles. In the budding yeast, the tension-sensing function requires that the Shugoshin protein, Shugoshin 1, be recruited to the centromeres and the neighboring pericentric regions. Concerted actions integrating proteins at centromeres and pericentromeres create highly specific Shugoshin 1 domains on mitotic chromosomes. We have previously reported that an important regulatory region on histone H3, termed the tension-sensing motif (TSM), is responsible for retaining Shugoshin 1 at pericentromeres. The TSM is negatively regulated by the acetyltransferase Gcn5p, but the underlying mechanism was elusive. In this work, we provide evidence that, when the TSM function is impaired, the histone H3 tail adopts a role that complements the damaged TSM to ensure faithful mitosis. This novel function of the H3 tail is controlled by Gcn5p, which targets selective lysine residues. Mutations to K14 and K23 ameliorate the mitotic defects resulting from TSM mutations. The restoration of faithful segregation is accompanied by regaining Shugoshin 1 access to the pericentric regions. Our data reveal a novel pathway for mitotic Shugoshin 1 recruitment and further reinforce the active role played by chromatins during their segregation in mitosis.

Meiotic crossovers must be properly patterned to ensure accurate disjunction of homologous chromosomes during meiosis I. Disruption of the spatial distribution of crossovers can lead to nondisjunction, aneuploidy, gamete dysfunction, miscarriage, or birth defects. One of the earliest identified genes involved in proper crossover patterning is Drosophila mei-41, which encodes the ortholog of the checkpoint kinase ATR. Analysis of hypomorphic mutants suggested the existence of crossover patterning defects, but it was not possible to assess this in null mutants because of maternal-effect embryonic lethality. To overcome this lethality, we constructed mei-41 null mutants in which we expressed wild-type Mei-41 in the germline after completion of meiotic recombination, allowing progeny to survive. We find that crossovers are decreased to about one-third of wild-type levels, but the reduction is not uniform, being less severe in the proximal regions of chromosome 2L than in medial or distal 2L or on the X chromosome. None of the crossovers formed in the absence of Mei-41 require Mei-9, the presumptive meiotic resolvase, suggesting that Mei-41 functions everywhere, despite the differential effects on crossover frequency. Interference appears to be significantly reduced or absent in mei-41 mutants, but the reduction in crossover density in centromere-proximal regions is largely intact. We propose that crossover patterning is achieved in a stepwise manner, with the crossover suppression related to proximity to the centromere occurring prior to and independently of crossover designation and enforcement of interference. In this model, Mei-41 has an essential function in meiotic recombination after the centromere effect is established but before crossover designation and interference occur.

Meiosis is a specialized cell division that generates gametes, such as eggs and sperm. Errors in meiosis result in miscarriages and are the leading cause of birth defects; however, the molecular origins of these defects remain unknown. Studies in model organisms are beginning to identify the genes and pathways important for meiosis, but the parts list is still poorly defined. Here we present a comprehensive catalog of genes important for meiosis in the fission yeast, Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Our genome-wide functional screen surveyed all nonessential genes for roles in chromosome segregation and spore formation. Novel genes important at distinct stages of the meiotic chromosome segregation and differentiation program were identified. Preliminary characterization implicated three of these genes in centrosome/spindle pole body, centromere, and cohesion function. Our findings represent a near-complete parts list of genes important for meiosis in fission yeast, providing a valuable resource to advance our molecular understanding of meiosis.

Ecdysteroids are steroid hormones that control many aspects of development and physiology. During larval development, ecdysone is synthesized in an endocrine organ called the prothoracic gland through a series of ecdysteroidogenic enzymes encoded by the Halloween genes. The expression of the Halloween genes is highly restricted and dynamic, indicating that their spatiotemporal regulation is mediated by their tight transcriptional control. In this study, we report that three zinc finger-associated domain (ZAD)-C2H2 zinc finger transcription factors—Séance (Séan), Ouija board (Ouib), and Molting defective (Mld)—cooperatively control ecdysone biosynthesis in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Séan and Ouib act in cooperation with Mld to positively regulate the transcription of neverland and spookier, respectively, two Halloween genes. Remarkably, loss-of-function mutations in séan, ouib, or mld can be rescued by the expression of neverland, spookier, or both, respectively. These results suggest that the three transcription factors have distinct roles in coordinating the expression of just two genes in Drosophila. Given that neverland and spookier are located in constitutive heterochromatin, Séan, Ouib, and Mld represent the first example of a transcription factor subset that regulates genes located in constitutive heterochromatin.

Repetitive DNA, represented by transposons and satellite DNA, constitutes a large portion of eukaryotic genomes, being the major component of constitutive heterochromatin. There is a growing body of evidence that it regulates several nuclear functions including chromatin state and the proper functioning of centromeres and telomeres. The 1.688 satellite is one of the most abundant repetitive sequences in Drosophila melanogaster, with the longest array being located in the pericentromeric region of the X-chromosome. Short arrays of 1.688 repeats are widespread within the euchromatic part of the X-chromosome, and these arrays were recently suggested to assist in recognition of the X-chromosome by the dosage compensation male-specific lethal complex. We discovered that a short array of 1.688 satellite repeats is essential for recruitment of the protein POF to a previously described site on the X-chromosome (PoX2) and to various transgenic constructs. On an isolated target, i.e., an autosomic transgene consisting of a gene upstream of 1.688 satellite repeats, POF is recruited to the transgene in both males and females. The sequence of the satellite, as well as its length and position within the recruitment element, are the major determinants of targeting. Moreover, the 1.688 array promotes POF targeting to the roX1-proximal PoX1 site in trans. Finally, binding of POF to the 1.688-related satellite-enriched sequences is conserved in evolution. We hypothesize that the 1.688 satellite functioned in an ancient dosage compensation system involving POF targeting to the X-chromosome.

The trimethylation of histone H3 at lysine 27 (H3K27me3) by Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2) is essential for the repression of Polycomb target genes. However, the role of enzymatic demethylation of H3K27me3 by the KDM6-family demethylases Utx, Uty, and JmjD3 is less clear. Studies in both mice and worms led to the proposal that KDM6 proteins, but not their H3K27me3 demethylase activity, is critical for normal development. Here, we investigated the requirement of the demethylase activity of the single KDM6 family member Utx in Drosophila. We generated Drosophila expressing a full-length but catalytically inactive Utx protein and found that these mutants show the same phenotypes as animals lacking the Utx protein. Specifically, animals lacking maternally deposited active Utx demethylase in the early embryo show stochastic loss of HOX gene expression that appears to be propagated in a clonal fashion. This suggests that Utx demethylase activity is critical for the removal of ectopic H3K27 trimethylation from active HOX genes during the onset of zygotic gene transcription, and thereby prevents the inappropriate installment of long-term repression by Polycomb. Conversely, maternally deposited catalytically active Utx protein suffices to permit animals that lack zygotic expression of enzymatically active Utx to develop into morphologically normal adults, which eclose from the pupal case but die shortly thereafter. Utx demethylase activity is therefore also essential to sustain viability in adult flies. Together, these analyses identify the earliest embryonic stages and the adult stage as two phases during the Drosophila life cycle that critically require H3K27me3 demethylase activity.

The Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein phosphatase calcineurin orchestrates sexual reproduction, stress responses, and virulence via branched downstream pathways in the opportunistic human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans. The calcineurin-binding protein Cbp1, the calcineurin temperature suppressor Cts1, the calcineurin-responsive zinc finger transcription factor Crz1, and the calcineurin targets Pbp1, Tif3, and Puf4, all function downstream of calcineurin to orchestrate distinct cellular processes. To elucidate how the calcineurin pathway regulatory network governs unisexual reproduction, stress responses, and virulence, we have analyzed the self-filamentous C. deneoformans strain, XL280α, and generated double mutants of these calcineurin downstream genes. We demonstrated that calcineurin governs unisexual reproduction at different sexual developmental stages, in which the initiation of the yeast–hyphal morphological transition is independent of Crz1, whereas the sporulation process is dependent on Crz1. Calcineurin-dependent unisexual reproduction is independent of the pheromone response pathway. Crz1 synergistically interacts with different calcineurin downstream targets in responding to ER, high-calcium, and cell wall stresses. We observed a widespread synergy suggesting that these proteins function in complex branched pathways downstream of calcineurin with some functional redundancy, which may allow efficient signaling network rewiring within the pathway for prompt adaptation to changing environments. Finally, we showed that deletion of PBP1 or TIF3 in the cna1 mutant background conferred a modest level of growth tolerance at 37°, but that the cna1 pbp1 and cna1 tif3 double mutants were both avirulent, suggesting that calcineurin may control virulence via mechanisms beyond thermotolerance.

Loss of V-ATPase activity in organelles, whether through V-ATPase inhibition or V-ATPase (vma) mutations, triggers a compensatory downregulation of the essential plasma membrane proton pump Pma1 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We have previously determined that the α-arrestin Rim8 and ubiquitin ligase Rsp5 are essential for Pma1 ubiquination and endocytosis in response to loss of V-ATPase activity. Here, we show that Pma1 endocytosis in V-ATPase mutants does not require Rim101 pathway components upstream and downstream of Rim8, indicating that Rim8 is acting independently in Pma1 internalization. We find that two phosphatases, the calcium-responsive phosphatase calcineurin and the glucose-sensitive phosphatase Glc7 (PP1), and one of the Glc7 regulatory subunits Reg1, exhibit negative synthetic genetic interactions with vma mutants, and demonstrate that both phosphatases are essential for ubiquitination and endocytic downregulation of Pma1 in these mutants. Although both acute and chronic loss of V-ATPase activity trigger the internalization of ~50% of surface Pma1, a comparable reduction in Pma1 expression in a pma1-007 mutant neither compensates for loss of V-ATPase activity nor stops further Pma1 endocytosis. The results indicate that the cell surface level of Pma1 is not directly sensed and that internalized Pma1 may play a role in compensating for loss of V-ATPase-dependent acidification. Taken together, these results provide new insights into cross talk between two major proton pumps central to cellular pH control.

Studying genes involved in organogenesis is often difficult because many of these genes are also essential for early development. The allotetraploid frog, Xenopus laevis, is commonly used to study developmental processes, but because of the presence of two homeologs for many genes, it has been difficult to use as a genetic model. Few studies have successfully used CRISPR in amphibians, and currently there is no tissue-targeted knockout strategy described in Xenopus. The goal of this study is to determine whether CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene knockout can be targeted to the Xenopus kidney without perturbing essential early gene function. We demonstrate that targeting CRISPR gene editing to the kidney and the eye of F0 embryos is feasible. Our study shows that knockout of both homeologs of lhx1 results in the disruption of kidney development and function but does not lead to early developmental defects. Therefore, targeting of CRISPR to the kidney may not be necessary to bypass the early developmental defects reported upon disruption of Lhx1 protein expression or function by morpholinos, antisense RNA, or dominant negative constructs. We also establish a control for CRISPR in Xenopus by editing a gene (slc45a2) that when knocked out results in albinism without altering kidney development. This study establishes the feasibility of tissue-specific gene knockout in Xenopus, providing a cost-effective and efficient method for assessing the roles of genes implicated in developmental abnormalities that is amenable to high-throughput gene or drug screening techniques.

Cell–cell communication is essential for plants to integrate developmental programs with external cues that affect their growth. Recent advances in plant signaling have uncovered similar molecular mechanisms in shoot, root, and vascular meristem signaling that involve receptor-like kinases and small, secreted peptides. Here, we report that the receptor-like kinases TOAD2/RPK2 and RPK1 regulate root growth by controlling cell proliferation and affecting meristem size. Two types of developmental alterations were observed upon exogenous CLE peptide application. The first type was detected in all plants treated, and comprise increased proliferative activity of cells in the stem cell niche and a delay of progression in differentiation of daughter cells. The second type was changes specific to the genotypes that are sensitive to CLE-driven root meristem inhibition and include a large decrease in the occurrence of cell divisions in longitudinal files, correlating with shorter meristems and cessation of root growth. The root meristems of toad2/rpk2 mutant plants are insensitive to the inhibitory effect of CLE17 peptide treatment, consistent with TOAD2/RPK2 function as a receptor for CLE peptides. In addition, a strong reduction in the expression of RPK1 protein upon CLE treatment, dependent on TOAD2/RPK2, suggests that these two RLKs mediate CLE signaling in a common pathway to control root growth.

Syd-1 proteins are required for presynaptic development in worm, fly, and mouse. Syd-1 proteins in all three species contain a Rho GTPase activating protein (GAP)-like domain of unclear significance: invertebrate Syd-1s are thought to lack GAP activity, and mouse mSYD1A has GAP activity that is thought to be dispensable for its function. Here, we show that Drosophila melanogaster Syd-1 can interact with all six fly Rhos and has GAP activity toward Rac1 and Cdc42. During development, fly Syd-1 clusters multiple presynaptic proteins at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ), including the cell adhesion molecule Neurexin (Nrx-1) and the active zone (AZ) component Bruchpilot (Brp), both of which Syd-1 binds directly. We show that a mutant form of Syd-1 that specifically lacks GAP activity localizes normally to presynaptic sites and is sufficient to recruit Nrx-1 but fails to cluster Brp normally. We provide evidence that Syd-1 participates with Rac1 in two separate functions: (1) together with the Rac guanine exchange factor (RacGEF) Trio, GAP-active Syd-1 is required to regulate the nucleotide-bound state of Rac1, thereby promoting Brp clustering; and (2) Syd-1, independent of its GAP activity, is required for the recruitment of Nrx-1 to boutons, including the recruitment of Nrx-1 that is promoted by GTP-bound Rac1. We conclude that, contrary to current models, the GAP domain of fly Syd-1 is active and required for presynaptic development; we suggest that the same may be true of vertebrate Syd-1 proteins. In addition, our data provide new molecular insight into the ability of Rac1 to promote presynaptic development.

How the brain makes trillions of synaptic connections using a genome of only 20,000 genes is a major question in modern neuroscience. Alternative splicing is one mechanism that can increase the number of proteins produced by each gene, but its role in regulating synapse formation is poorly understood. In Drosophila, photoreceptors form a synapse with multiple postsynaptic elements including lamina neurons L1 and L2. L1 and L2 express distinct isoforms of the homophilic repulsive protein Dscam2, and since these isoforms cannot bind to each other, cell-specific expression has been proposed to be necessary for preventing repulsive interactions that could disrupt the synapse. Here, we show that the number of synapses are reduced in flies that express only one isoform, and L1 and L2 dendritic morphology is perturbed. We propose that these defects result from inappropriate interactions between L1 and L2 dendrites. We conclude that regulated Dscam2 alternative splicing is necessary for the proper assembly of photoreceptor synapses.

N6-methyladenosine (m6A), catalyzed by Mettl3 methyltransferase, is a highly conserved epigenetic modification in eukaryotic messenger RNA (mRNA). Previous studies have implicated m6A modification in multiple biological processes, but the in vivo function of m6A has been difficult to study, because mettl3 mutants are embryonic lethal in both mammals and plants. In this study, we have used transcription activator-like effector nucleases and generated viable zygotic mettl3 mutant, Zmettl3m/m, in zebrafish. We find that the oocytes in Zmettl3m/m adult females are stalled in early development and the ratio of full-grown stage (FG) follicles is significantly lower than that of wild type. Human chorionic gonadotropin-induced ovarian germinal vesicle breakdown in vitro and the numbers of eggs ovulated in vivo are both decreased as well, while the defects of oocyte maturation can be rescued by sex hormone in vitro and in vivo. In Zmettl3m/m adult males, we find defects in sperm maturation and sperm motility is significantly reduced. Further study shows that 11-ketotestosterone (11-KT) and 17β-estradiol (E2) levels are significantly decreased in Zmettl3m/m, and defective gamete maturation is accompanied by decreased overall m6A modification levels and disrupted expression of genes critical for sex hormone synthesis and gonadotropin signaling in Zmettl3m/m. Thus, our study provides the first in vivo evidence that loss of Mettl3 leads to failed gamete maturation and significantly reduced fertility in zebrafish. Mettl3 and m6A modifications are essential for optimal reproduction in vertebrates.

Functionally redundant genes present a puzzle as to their evolutionary preservation, and offer an interesting opportunity for molecular specialization. In Caenorhabditis elegans, either one of two presenilin genes (sel-12 or hop-1) facilitate Notch activation, providing the catalytic subunit for the secretase proteolytic enzyme complex. For all known Notch signaling events, sel-12 can mediate Notch activation, so the conservation of hop-1 remains a mystery. Here, we uncover a novel "late-onset" germline Notch phenotype in which HOP-1-deficient worms fail to maintain proliferating germline stem cells during adulthood. Either SEL-12 or HOP-1 presenilin can impart sufficient Notch signaling for the establishment and expansion of the germline, but maintenance of an adult stem cell pool relies exclusively on HOP-1-mediated Notch signaling. We also show that HOP-1 is necessary for maximum fecundity and reproductive span. The low-fecundity phenotype of hop-1 mutants can be phenocopied by switching off glp-1/Notch function during the last stage of larval development. We propose that at the end of larval development, dual presenilin usage switches exclusively to HOP-1, perhaps offering opportunities for differential regulation of the germline during adulthood. Additional defects in oocyte size and production rate in hop-1 and glp-1 mutants indicate that the process of oogenesis is compromised when germline Notch signaling is switched off. We calculate that in wild-type adults, as much as 86% of cells derived from the stem cell pool function to support oogenesis. This work suggests that an important role for Notch signaling in the adult germline is to furnish a large and continuous supply of nurse cells to support the efficiency of oogenesis.

Humans have colonized the planet through a series of range expansions, which deeply impacted genetic diversity in newly settled areas and potentially increased the frequency of deleterious mutations on expanding wave fronts. To test this prediction, we studied the genomic diversity of French Canadians who colonized Quebec in the 17th century. We used historical information and records from ~4000 ascending genealogies to select individuals whose ancestors lived mostly on the colonizing wave front and individuals whose ancestors remained in the core of the settlement. Comparison of exomic diversity reveals that: (i) both new and low-frequency variants are significantly more deleterious in front than in core individuals, (ii) equally deleterious mutations are at higher frequencies in front individuals, and (iii) front individuals are two times more likely to be homozygous for rare very deleterious mutations present in Europeans. These differences have emerged in the past six to nine generations and cannot be explained by differential inbreeding, but are consistent with relaxed selection mainly due to higher rates of genetic drift on the wave front. Demographic inference and modeling of the evolution of rare variants suggest lower effective size on the front, and lead to an estimation of selection coefficients that increase with conservation scores. Even though range expansions have had a relatively limited impact on the overall fitness of French Canadians, they could explain the higher prevalence of recessive genetic diseases in recently settled regions of Quebec.

Genome-wide association studies are widely used to identify "disease genes" conferring resistance/susceptibility to infectious diseases. Using a combination of mathematical models and simulations, we demonstrate that genetic interactions between hosts and parasites [genotype-by-genotype (G x G) interactions] can drastically affect the results of these association scans and hamper our ability to detect genetic variation in susceptibility. When hosts and parasites coevolve, these G x G interactions often make genome-wide association studies unrepeatable over time or across host populations. Reanalyzing previously published data on Daphnia magna susceptibility to infection by Pasteuria ramosa, we identify genomic regions consistent with G x G interactions. We conclude by outlining possible avenues for designing more powerful and more repeatable association studies.

Many population genomic studies have been conducted in the past to search for traces of recent events of positive selection. These traces, however, can be obscured by temporal variation of population size or other demographic factors. To reduce the confounding impact of demography, the coalescent tree topology has been used as an additional source of information for detecting recent positive selection in a population or a species. Based on the branching pattern at the root, we partition the hypothetical coalescent tree, inferred from a sequence sample, into two subtrees. The reasoning is that positive selection could impose a strong impact on branch length in one of the two subtrees while demography has the same effect on average on both subtrees. Thus, positive selection should be detectable by comparing statistics calculated for the two subtrees. Simulations demonstrate that the proposed test based on these principles has high power to detect recent positive selection even when DNA polymorphism data from only one locus is available, and that it is robust to the confounding effect of demography. One feature is that all components in the summary statistics ($${D}_{u}$$) can be computed analytically. Moreover, misinference of derived and ancestral alleles is seen to have only a limited effect on the test, and it therefore avoids a notorious problem when searching for traces of recent positive selection.

To study the interplay of rare outcrossing and metapopulation structure, we focus on the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Its remarkably low outcrossing rate is at the extreme end of the spectrum for facultative selfing organisms. At the demographic level, C. elegans natural populations undergo boom and bust dynamics on ephemeral resources, with the dauer diapause larva acting as the dispersal form. Here we investigate the small-scale genetic structure of C. elegans populations in two localities over several years, using 2b restriction-associated DNA sequencing of nearly 1000 individuals. We find a remarkably small number of genome-wide haplotypes, almost exclusively in the homozygous state, confirming the low effective outcrossing rate. Most strikingly, the major haplotypes in a locality remain intact and do not effectively recombine over several years. From the spatial pattern of diversity, we estimate that each subpopulation or deme is seeded by a mean of 3–10 immigrating individuals. Populations are thus formed by clones that compete at two levels, within a subpopulation and at the metapopulation level. We test for the presence of local phenotypic variation in pathogen resistance and dauer larva nictation, which could possibly explain the maintenance of different genotypes by heterogeneous selection in different local environments or lifecycles. This study is the first to address the local spatiotemporal genetic structure of C. elegans on feeding substrates. We conclude that these animals coexist as competing homozygous clones at the smallest population scale as well as in the metapopulation.



Genetic Markers

You know how an interstate map can guide you from one city to another. A genetic map is like that, and it guides researchers toward their target gene. Just as there are landmarks in interstate maps, there also are landmarks in genetic maps known as genetic markers...
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Gene Map

The linear arrangement of mutable sites on a chromosome as deduced from genetic recombination experiments.