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

Genetic News

The Genetics Society of America (GSA) Medal recognizes researchers who have made outstanding contributions to the field of genetics in the past 15 years. The 2019 GSA Medal is awarded to Bonnie L. Bassler of Princeton University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in recognition of her groundbreaking studies of bacterial chemical communication and regulation of group behaviors.

In 1869, the young Swiss biochemist Friedrich Miescher discovered the molecule we now refer to as DNA, developing techniques for its extraction. In this paper we explain why his name is all but forgotten, and his role in the history of genetics is mostly overlooked. We focus on the role of national rivalries and disciplinary turf wars in shaping historical memory, and on how the story we tell shapes our understanding of the science. We highlight that Miescher could just as correctly be portrayed as the person who understood the chemical nature of chromatin (before the term existed), and the first to suggest how stereochemistry might serve as the basis for the transmission of hereditary variation.

Mesoderm migration in the Drosophila embryo is a highly conserved, complex process that is required for the formation of specialized tissues and organs, including the somatic and visceral musculature. In this FlyBook chapter, we will compare and contrast the specification and migration of cells originating from the trunk and caudal mesoderm. Both cell types engage in collective migrations that enable cells to achieve new positions within developing embryos and form distinct tissues. To start, we will discuss specification and early morphogenetic movements of the presumptive mesoderm, then focus on the coordinate movements of the two subtypes trunk mesoderm and caudal visceral mesoderm, ending with a comparison of these processes including general insights gained through study.

Advanced-generation multiparent populations (MPPs) are a valuable tool for dissecting complex traits, having more power than genome-wide association studies to detect rare variants and higher resolution than F2 linkage mapping. To extend the advantages of MPPs in budding yeast, we describe the creation and characterization of two outbred MPPs derived from 18 genetically diverse founding strains. We carried out de novo assemblies of the genomes of the 18 founder strains, such that virtually all variation segregating between these strains is known, and represented those assemblies as Santa Cruz Genome Browser tracks. We discovered complex patterns of structural variation segregating among the founders, including a large deletion within the vacuolar ATPase VMA1, several different deletions within the osmosensor MSB2, a series of deletions and insertions at PRM7 and the adjacent BSC1, as well as copy number variation at the dehydrogenase ALD2. Resequenced haploid recombinant clones from the two MPPs have a median unrecombined block size of 66 kb, demonstrating that the population is highly recombined. We pool-sequenced the two MPPs to 3270x and 2226x coverage and demonstrated that we can accurately estimate local haplotype frequencies using pooled data. We further downsampled the pool-sequenced data to ~20–40x and showed that local haplotype frequency estimates remained accurate, with median error rates 0.8 and 0.6% at 20x and 40x, respectively. Haplotypes frequencies are estimated much more accurately than SNP frequencies obtained directly from the same data. Deep sequencing of the two populations revealed that 10 or more founders are present at a detectable frequency for > 98% of the genome, validating the utility of this resource for the exploration of the role of standing variation in the architecture of complex traits.

We consider the problem of interpreting negative maximum likelihood estimates of heritability that sometimes arise from popular statistical models of additive genetic variation. These may result from random noise acting on estimates of genuinely positive heritability, but we argue that they may also arise from misspecification of the standard additive mechanism that is supposed to justify the statistical procedure. Researchers should be open to the possibility that negative heritability estimates could reflect a real physical feature of the biological process from which the data were sampled.

Sharing human genotype and phenotype data is essential to discover otherwise inaccessible genetic associations, but is a challenge because of privacy concerns. Here, we present a method of homomorphic encryption that obscures individuals’ genotypes and phenotypes, and is suited to quantitative genetic association analysis. Encrypted ciphertext and unencrypted plaintext are analytically interchangeable. The encryption uses a high-dimensional random linear orthogonal transformation key that leaves the likelihood of quantitative trait data unchanged under a linear model with normally distributed errors. It also preserves linkage disequilibrium between genetic variants and associations between variants and phenotypes. It scrambles relationships between individuals: encrypted genotype dosages closely resemble Gaussian deviates, and can be replaced by quantiles from a Gaussian with negligible effects on accuracy. Likelihood-based inferences are unaffected by orthogonal encryption. These include linear mixed models to control for unequal relatedness between individuals, heritability estimation, and including covariates when testing association. Orthogonal transformations can be applied in a modular fashion for multiparty federated mega-analyses where the parties first agree to share a common set of genotype sites and covariates prior to encryption. Each then privately encrypts and shares their own ciphertext, and analyses all parties’ ciphertexts. In the absence of private variants, or knowledge of the key, we show that it is infeasible to decrypt ciphertext using existing brute-force or noise-reduction attacks. We present the method as a challenge to the community to determine its security.

Eukaryotic organisms have evolved mechanisms to prevent the accumulation of cells bearing genetic aberrations. This is especially crucial for the germline, because fecundity and fitness of progeny would be adversely affected by an excessively high mutational incidence. The process of meiosis poses unique problems for mutation avoidance because of the requirement for SPO11-induced programmed double-strand breaks (DSBs) in recombination-driven pairing and segregation of homologous chromosomes. Mouse meiocytes bearing unrepaired meiotic DSBs or unsynapsed chromosomes are eliminated before completing meiotic prophase I. In previous work, we showed that checkpoint kinase 2 (CHK2; CHEK2), a canonical DNA damage response protein, is crucial for eliminating not only oocytes defective in meiotic DSB repair (e.g., Trip13Gt mutants), but also Spo11–/– oocytes that are defective in homologous chromosome synapsis and accumulate a threshold level of spontaneous DSBs. However, rescue of such oocytes by Chk2 deficiency was incomplete, raising the possibility that a parallel checkpoint pathway(s) exists. Here, we show that mouse oocytes lacking both p53 (TRP53) and the oocyte-exclusive isoform of p63, TAp63, protects nearly all Spo11–/– and Trip13Gt/Gt oocytes from elimination. We present evidence that checkpoint kinase I (CHK1; CHEK1), which is known to signal to TRP53, also becomes activated by persistent DSBs in oocytes, and to an increased degree when CHK2 is absent. The combined data indicate that nearly all oocytes reaching a threshold level of unrepaired DSBs are eliminated by a semiredundant pathway of CHK1/CHK2 signaling to TRP53/TAp63.

Transposable elements (TEs) are a ubiquitous feature of plant genomes. Because of the threat they post to genome integrity, most TEs are epigenetically silenced. However, even closely related plant species often have dramatically different populations of TEs, suggesting periodic rounds of activity and silencing. Here, we show that the process of de novo methylation of an active element in maize involves two distinct pathways, one of which is directly implicated in causing epigenetic silencing and one of which is the result of that silencing. Epigenetic changes involve changes in gene expression that can be heritably transmitted to daughter cells in the absence of changes in DNA sequence. Epigenetics has been implicated in phenomena as diverse as development, stress response, and carcinogenesis. A significant challenge facing those interested in investigating epigenetic phenomena is determining causal relationships between DNA methylation, specific classes of small RNAs, and associated changes in gene expression. Because they are the primary targets of epigenetic silencing in plants and, when active, are often targeted for de novo silencing, TEs represent a valuable source of information about these relationships. We use a naturally occurring system in which a single TE can be heritably silenced by a single derivative of that TE. By using this system it is possible to unravel causal relationships between different size classes of small RNAs, patterns of DNA methylation, and heritable silencing. Here, we show that the long terminal inverted repeats within Zea mays MuDR transposons are targeted by distinct classes of small RNAs during epigenetic silencing that are dependent on distinct silencing pathways, only one of which is associated with transcriptional silencing of the transposon. Further, these small RNAs target distinct regions of the terminal inverted repeats, resulting in different patterns of cytosine methylation with different functional consequences with respect to epigenetic silencing and the heritability of that silencing.

Although transposable elements (TEs) comprise a major fraction of many higher eukaryotic genomes, most TEs are silenced by host defense mechanisms. The means by which otherwise active TEs are recognized and silenced remains poorly understood. Here we analyzed two independent cases of spontaneous silencing of the active maize Ac/Ds transposon system. This silencing is initiated by alternative transposition, a type of aberrant transposition event that engages the termini of two nearby separate TEs. Alternative transposition during DNA replication can generate Composite Insertions that contain inverted duplications of the transposon sequences. We show that the inverted duplications of two Composite Insertions are transcribed to produce double-stranded RNAs that trigger the production of two distinct classes of small interfering RNAs: a 24-nt class complementary to the TE terminal inverted repeats and noncoding subterminal regions, and a 21- to 22-nt class corresponding to the TE transcribed regions. Plants containing these small interfering RNA-generating Composite Insertions exhibit decreased levels of Ac transcript and heritable repression of Ac/Ds transposition. Further, we demonstrate that Composite Insertions can heritably silence otherwise active elements in trans. This study documents the first case of transposon silencing induced by alternative transposition and may represent a general initiating mechanism for silencing of DNA transposons.

Mediator is an essential, multisubunit complex that functions as a transcriptional coactivator in yeast and other eukaryotic organisms. Mediator has four conserved modules, Head, Middle, Tail, and Kinase, and has been implicated in nearly all aspects of gene regulation. The Tail module has been shown to recruit the Mediator complex to the enhancer or upstream activating sequence (UAS) regions of genes via interactions with transcription factors, and the Kinase module facilitates the transition of Mediator from the UAS/enhancer to the preinitiation complex via protein phosphorylation. Here, we analyze expression of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae HO gene using a sin4 Mediator Tail mutation that separates the Tail module from the rest of the complex; the sin4 mutation permits independent recruitment of the Tail module to promoters without the rest of Mediator. Significant increases in recruitment of the SWI/SNF and SAGA coactivators to the HO promoter UAS were observed in a sin4 mutant, along with increased gene activation. These results are consistent with recent studies that have suggested that the Kinase module functions negatively to inhibit activation by the Tail. However, we found that Kinase module mutations did not mimic the effect of a sin4 mutation on HO expression. This suggests that at HO the core Mediator complex (Middle and Head modules) must play a role in limiting Tail binding to the promoter UAS and gene activation. We propose that the core Mediator complex helps modulate Mediator binding to the UAS regions of genes to limit coactivator recruitment and ensure proper regulation of gene transcription.

P granules are phase-separated liquid droplets that play important roles in the maintenance of germ cell fate in Caenorhabditis elegans. Both the localization and formation of P granules are highly dynamic, but mechanisms that regulate such processes remain poorly understood. Here, we show evidence that the VASA-like germline RNA helicase GLH-1 couples distinct steps of its ATPase hydrolysis cycle to control the formation and disassembly of P granules. In addition, we found that the phenylalanine-glycine-glycine repeats in GLH-1 promote its localization at the perinucleus. Proteomic analyses of the GLH-1 complex with a GLH-1 mutation that interferes with P granule disassembly revealed transient interactions of GLH-1 with several Argonautes and RNA-binding proteins. Finally, we found that defects in recruiting the P granule component PRG-1 to perinuclear foci in the adult germline correlate with the fertility defects observed in various GLH-1 mutants. Together, our results highlight the versatile roles of an RNA helicase in controlling the formation of liquid droplets in space and time.

Microtubule-organizing centers often play a central role in organizing the cellular microtubule networks that underlie cell function. In neurons, microtubules in axons and dendrites have distinct polarities. Dendrite-specific Golgi "outposts," in particular multicompartment outposts, have emerged as regulators of acentrosomal microtubule growth, raising the question of whether outposts contribute to establishing or maintaining the overall polarity of the dendritic microtubule cytoskeleton. Using a combination of genetic approaches and live imaging in a Drosophila model, we found that dendritic microtubule polarity is unaffected by eliminating known regulators of Golgi-dependent microtubule organization including the cis-Golgi matrix protein GM130, the fly AKAP450 ortholog pericentrin-like protein, and centrosomin. This indicates that Golgi outposts are not essential for the formation or maintenance of a dendrite-specific cytoskeleton. However, the overexpression of GM130, which promotes the formation of ectopic multicompartment units, is sufficient to alter dendritic microtubule polarity. Axonal microtubule polarity is similarly disrupted by the presence of ectopic multicompartment Golgi outposts. Notably, multicompartment outposts alter microtubule polarity independently of microtubule nucleation mediated by the -tubulin ring complex. Thus, although Golgi outposts are not essential to dendritic microtubule polarity, altering their organization correlates with changes to microtubule polarity. Based on these data, we propose that the organization of Golgi outposts is carefully regulated to ensure proper dendritic microtubule polarity.

Cytokinesis, as the final step of cell division, plays an important role in fungal growth and proliferation. In the filamentous fungus Aspergillus nidulans, defective cytokinesis is able to induce abnormal multinuclear or nonnucleated cells and then result in reduced hyphal growth and abolished sporulation. Previous studies have reported that a conserved contractile actin ring (CAR) protein complex and the septation initiation network (SIN) signaling kinase cascade are required for cytokinesis and septation; however, little is known about the role(s) of scaffold proteins involved in these two important cellular processes. In this study, we show that a septum-localized scaffold protein paxillin B (PaxB) is essential for cytokinesis/septation in A. nidulans. The septation defects observed in a paxB deletion strain resemble those caused by the absence of another identified scaffold protein, α-actinin (AcnA). Deletion of α-actinin (AcnA) leads to undetectable PaxB at the septation site, whereas deletion of paxB does not affect the localization of α-actinin at septa. However, deletion of either α-actinin (acnA) or paxB causes the actin ring to disappear at septation sites during cytokinesis. Notably, overexpression of α-actinin acnA partially rescues the septum defects of the paxB mutant but not vice versa, suggesting AcnA may play a dominant role over that of PaxB for cytokinesis and septation. In addition, PaxB and α-actinin affect the septal dynamic localization of MobA, a conserved component of the SIN pathway, suggesting they may affect the SIN protein complex function at septa. Protein pull-down assays combined with liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry identification indicate that α-actinin AcnA and PaxB likely do not directly interact, but presumably belong to an actin cytoskeleton protein network that is required for the assembly and contraction of the CAR. Taken together, findings in this study provide novel insights into the roles of conserved scaffold proteins during fungal septation in A. nidulans.

Mitochondrial biogenesis requires coordinated expression of genes encoding mitochondrial proteins, which in Saccharomyces cerevisiae is achieved in part via post-transcriptional control by the Pumilio RNA-binding domain protein Puf3. Puf3 binds to the 3'-UTR of many messenger RNAs (mRNAs) that encode mitochondrial proteins, regulating their turnover, translation, and/or mitochondrial targeting. Puf3 hyperphosphorylation correlates with increased mitochondrial biogenesis; however, the kinase responsible for Puf3 phosphorylation is unclear. Here, we show that the casein kinase I protein Hrr25 negatively regulates Puf3 by mediating its phosphorylation. An hrr25 mutation results in reduced phosphorylation of Puf3 in vivo and a puf3 deletion mutation reverses growth defects of hrr25 mutant cells grown on medium with a nonfermentable carbon source. We show that Hrr25 directly phosphorylates Puf3, and that the interaction between Puf3 and Hrr25 is mediated through the N-terminal domain of Puf3 and the kinase domain of Hrr25. We further found that an hrr25 mutation reduces GFP expression from GFP reporter constructs carrying the 3'-UTR of Puf3 targets. Downregulation of GFP expression due to an hrr25 mutation can be reversed either by puf3 or by mutations to the Puf3-binding sites in the 3'-UTR of the GFP reporter constructs. Together, our data indicate that Hrr25 is a positive regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis by phosphorylating Puf3 and inhibiting its function in downregulating target mRNAs encoding mitochondrial proteins.

The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is protected from the environment by the cuticle, an extracellular collagen-based matrix that encloses the animal. Over 170 cuticular collagens are predicted in the C. elegans genome, but the role of each individual collagen is unclear. Stage-specific specialization of the cuticle explains the need for some collagens; however, the large number of collagens suggests that specialization of the cuticle may also occur in response to other environmental triggers. Missense mutations in many collagen genes can disrupt cuticle morphology, producing a helically twisted body causing the animal to move in a stereotypical pattern described as rolling. We find that environmental factors, including diet, early developmental arrest, and population density can differentially influence the penetrance of rolling in these mutants. These effects are in part due to changes in collagen gene expression that are mediated by the GATA family transcription factor ELT-3. We propose a model by which ELT-3 regulates collagen gene expression in response to environmental stimuli to promote the assembly of a cuticle specialized to a given environment.

The time, extent, and genomic effect of the introgressions from archaic humans into ancestors of extant human populations remain some of the most exciting venues of population genetics research in the past decade. Several studies have shown population-specific signatures of introgression events from Neanderthals, Denisovans, and potentially other unknown hominin populations in different human groups. Moreover, it was shown that these introgression events may have contributed to phenotypic variation in extant humans, with biomedical and evolutionary consequences. In this study, we present a comprehensive analysis of the unusually divergent haplotypes in the Eurasian genomes and show that they can be traced back to multiple introgression events. In parallel, we document hundreds of deletion polymorphisms shared with Neanderthals. A locus-specific analysis of one such shared deletion suggests the existence of a direct introgression event from the Altai Neanderthal lineage into the ancestors of extant East Asian populations. Overall, our study is in agreement with the emergent notion that various Neanderthal populations contributed to extant human genetic variation in a population-specific manner.

Emerging large-scale biobanks pairing genotype data with phenotype data present new opportunities to prioritize shared genetic associations across multiple phenotypes for molecular validation. Past research, by our group and others, has shown gene-level tests of association produce biologically interpretable characterization of the genetic architecture of a given phenotype. Here, we present a new method, Ward clustering to identify Internal Node branch length outliers using Gene Scores (WINGS), for identifying shared genetic architecture among multiple phenotypes. The objective of WINGS is to identify groups of phenotypes, or "clusters," sharing a core set of genes enriched for mutations in cases. We validate WINGS using extensive simulation studies and then combine gene-level association tests with WINGS to identify shared genetic architecture among 81 case-control and seven quantitative phenotypes in 349,468 European-ancestry individuals from the UK Biobank. We identify eight prioritized phenotype clusters and recover multiple published gene-level associations within prioritized clusters.



Genetic Benefits

The techniques developed for genetic mapping have had great impact on the life sciences, and particularly in medicine. But genetic mapping technologies also have useful applications in other fields...
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All of the genes carried by a single gamete; the DNA content of an individual, which includes all 44 autosomes, 2 sex chromosomes, and the mitochondrial DNA.