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

Genetic News

Phenotypic variation is generated by the processes of development, with some variants arising more readily than others—a phenomenon known as "developmental bias." Developmental bias and natural selection have often been portrayed as alternative explanations, but this is a false dichotomy: developmental bias can evolve through natural selection, and bias and selection jointly influence phenotypic evolution. Here, we briefly review the evidence for developmental bias and illustrate how it is studied empirically. We describe recent theory on regulatory networks that explains why the influence of genetic and environmental perturbation on phenotypes is typically not uniform, and may even be biased toward adaptive phenotypic variation. We show how bias produced by developmental processes constitutes an evolving property able to impose direction on adaptive evolution and influence patterns of taxonomic and phenotypic diversity. Taking these considerations together, we argue that it is not sufficient to accommodate developmental bias into evolutionary theory merely as a constraint on evolutionary adaptation. The influence of natural selection in shaping developmental bias, and conversely, the influence of developmental bias in shaping subsequent opportunities for adaptation, requires mechanistic models of development to be expanded and incorporated into evolutionary theory. A regulatory network perspective on phenotypic evolution thus helps to integrate the generation of phenotypic variation with natural selection, leaving evolutionary biology better placed to explain how organisms adapt and diversify.

A healthy individual may carry a detrimental genetic trait that is masked by another genetic mutation. Such suppressive genetic interactions, in which a mutant allele either partially or completely restores the fitness defect of a particular mutant, tend to occur between genes that have a confined functional connection. Here we investigate a self-recovery phenotype in Schizosaccharomyces pombe, mediated by suppressive genetic interactions that can be amplified during cell culture. Cells without Elf1, an AAA+ family ATPase, have severe growth defects initially, but quickly recover growth rates near to those of wild-type strains by acquiring suppressor mutations. elf1 cells accumulate RNAs within the nucleus and display effects of genome instability such as sensitivity to DNA damage, increased incidence of lagging chromosomes, and mini-chromosome loss. Notably, the rate of phenotypic recovery was further enhanced in elf1 cells when RNase H activities were abolished and significantly reduced upon overexpression of RNase H1, suggesting that loss of Elf1-related genome instability can be resolved by RNase H activities, likely through eliminating the potentially mutagenic DNA–RNA hybrids caused by RNA nuclear accumulation. Using whole genome sequencing, we mapped a few consistent suppressors of elf1 including mutated Cue2, Rpl2702, and SPBPJ4664.02, suggesting previously unknown functional connections between Elf1 and these proteins. Our findings describe a mechanism by which cells bearing mutations that cause fitness defects and genome instability may accelerate the fitness recovery of their population through quickly acquiring suppressors. We propose that this mechanism may be universally applicable to all microorganisms in large-population cultures.

DNA methylation can contribute to the maintenance of genome integrity and regulation of gene expression. In most situations, DNA methylation patterns are inherited quite stably. However, changes in DNA methylation can occur at some loci as a result of tissue culture resulting in somaclonal variation. To investigate heritable epigenetic changes as a consequence of tissue culture, a sequence-capture bisulfite sequencing approach was implemented to monitor context-specific DNA methylation patterns in ~15 Mb of the maize genome for a population of plants that had been regenerated from tissue culture. Plants that have been regenerated from tissue culture exhibit gains and losses of DNA methylation at a subset of genomic regions. There was evidence for a high rate of homozygous changes to DNA methylation levels that occur consistently in multiple independent tissue culture lines, suggesting that some loci are either targeted or hotspots for epigenetic variation. The consistent changes inherited following tissue culture include both gains and losses of DNA methylation and can affect CG, CHG, or both contexts within a region. Only a subset of the tissue culture changes observed in callus plants are observed in the primary regenerants, but the majority of DNA methylation changes present in primary regenerants are passed onto offspring. This study provides insights into the susceptibility of some loci and potential mechanisms that could contribute to altered DNA methylation and epigenetic state that occur during tissue culture in plant species.

Among the collection of chromatin modifications that influence its function and structure, the substitution of canonical histones by the so-called histone variants is one of the most prominent actions. Since crucial meiotic transactions are modulated by chromatin, here we investigate the functional contribution of the H2A.Z histone variant during both unperturbed meiosis and upon challenging conditions where the meiotic recombination checkpoint is triggered in budding yeast by the absence of the synaptonemal complex component Zip1. We have found that H2A.Z localizes to meiotic chromosomes in an SWR1-dependent manner. Although meiotic recombination is not substantially altered, the htz1 mutant (lacking H2A.Z) shows inefficient meiotic progression, impaired sporulation, and reduced spore viability. These phenotypes are likely accounted for by the misregulation of meiotic gene expression landscape observed in htz1. In the zip1 mutant, the absence of H2A.Z results in a tighter meiotic arrest imposed by the meiotic recombination checkpoint. We have found that Mec1-dependent Hop1-T318 phosphorylation and the ensuing Mek1 activation are not significantly altered in zip1 htz1; however, downstream checkpoint targets, such as the meiosis I-promoting factors Ndt80, Cdc5, and Clb1, are drastically downregulated. The study of the checkpoint response in zip1 htz1 has also allowed us to reveal the existence of an additional function of the Swe1 kinase, independent of CDK inhibitory phosphorylation, which is relevant to restrain meiotic cell cycle progression. In summary, our study shows that the H2A.Z histone variant impacts various aspects of meiotic development adding further insight into the relevance of chromatin dynamics for accurate gametogenesis.

Mismatch repair (MMR) is a major contributor to replication fidelity, but its impact varies with sequence context and the nature of the mismatch. Mutation accumulation experiments followed by whole-genome sequencing of MMR-defective Escherichia coli strains yielded 30,000 base-pair substitutions (BPSs), revealing mutational patterns across the entire chromosome. The BPS spectrum was dominated by A:T to G:C transitions, which occurred predominantly at the center base of 5'NAC3'+5'GTN3' triplets. Surprisingly, growth on minimal medium or at low temperature attenuated these mutations. Mononucleotide runs were also hotspots for BPSs, and the rate at which these occurred increased with run length. Comparison with 2000 BPSs accumulated in MMR-proficient strains revealed that both kinds of hotspots appeared in the wild-type spectrum and so are likely to be sites of frequent replication errors. In MMR-defective strains transitions were strand biased, occurring twice as often when A and C rather than T and G were on the lagging-strand template. Loss of nucleotide diphosphate kinase increases the cellular concentration of dCTP, which resulted in increased rates of mutations due to misinsertion of C opposite A and T. In an mmr ndk double mutant strain, these mutations were more frequent when the template A and T were on the leading strand, suggesting that lagging-strand synthesis was more error-prone, or less well corrected by proofreading, than was leading strand synthesis.

When the DNA polymerase that replicates the Escherichia coli chromosome, DNA polymerase III, makes an error, there are two primary defenses against mutation: proofreading by the subunit of the holoenzyme and mismatch repair. In proofreading-deficient strains, mismatch repair is partially saturated and the cell’s response to DNA damage, the SOS response, may be partially induced. To investigate the nature of replication errors, we used mutation accumulation experiments and whole-genome sequencing to determine mutation rates and mutational spectra across the entire chromosome of strains deficient in proofreading, mismatch repair, and the SOS response. We report that a proofreading-deficient strain has a mutation rate 4000-fold greater than wild-type strains. While the SOS response may be induced in these cells, it does not contribute to the mutational load. Inactivating mismatch repair in a proofreading-deficient strain increases the mutation rate another 1.5-fold. DNA polymerase has a bias for converting G:C to A:T base pairs, but proofreading reduces the impact of these mutations, helping to maintain the genomic G:C content. These findings give an unprecedented view of how polymerase and error-correction pathways work together to maintain E. coli’s low mutation rate of 1 per 1000 generations.

The FANTOM5 consortium recently characterized 65,423 human enhancers from 1829 cell and tissue samples using the Cap Analysis of Gene Expression technology. We showed that the guanine and cytosine content at enhancer regions distinguishes two classes of enhancers harboring distinct DNA structural properties at flanking regions. A functional analysis of their predicted gene targets highlighted one class of enhancers as significantly enriched for associations with immune response genes. Moreover, these enhancers were specifically enriched for regulatory motifs recognized by transcription factors involved in immune response. We observed that enhancers enriched for links to immune response genes were more cell-type specific, preferentially activated upon bacterial infection, and with specific response activity. Looking at chromatin capture data, we found that the two classes of enhancers were lying in distinct topologically associating domains and chromatin loops. Our results suggest that specific nucleotide compositions encode for classes of enhancers that are functionally distinct and specifically organized in the human genome.

The nonsense-mediated messenger RNA (mRNA) decay (NMD) pathway is a cellular quality control and post-transcriptional gene regulatory mechanism and is essential for viability in most multicellular organisms . A complex of proteins has been identified to be required for NMD function to occur; however, there is an incomplete understanding of the individual contributions of each of these factors to the NMD process. Central to the NMD process are three proteins, Upf1 (SMG-2), Upf2 (SMG-3), and Upf3 (SMG-4), which are found in all eukaryotes, with Upf1 and Upf2 being absolutely required for NMD in all organisms in which their functions have been examined. The other known NMD factors, Smg1, Smg5, Smg6, and Smg7, are more variable in their presence in different orders of organisms and are thought to have a more regulatory role. Here we present the first genetic analysis of the NMD factor Smg5 in Drosophila. Surprisingly, we find that unlike the other analyzed Smg genes in this organism, Smg5 is essential for NMD activity. We found this is due in part to a requirement for Smg5 in both the activity of Smg6-dependent endonucleolytic cleavage, as well as an additional Smg6-independent mechanism. Redundancy between these degradation pathways explains why some Drosophila NMD genes are not required for all NMD-pathway activity. We also found that while the NMD component Smg1 has only a minimal role in Drosophila NMD during normal conditions, it becomes essential when NMD activity is compromised by partial loss of Smg5 function. Our findings suggest that not all NMD complex components are required for NMD function at all times, but instead are utilized in a context-dependent manner in vivo.

Many heterogametic organisms adjust sex chromosome expression to accommodate differences in gene dosage. This requires selective recruitment of regulatory factors to the modulated chromosome. How these factors are localized to a chromosome with requisite accuracy is poorly understood. Drosophila melanogaster males increase expression from their single X chromosome. Identification of this chromosome involves cooperation between different classes of X-identity elements. The chromatin entry sites (CES) recruit a chromatin-modifying complex that spreads into nearby genes and increases expression. In addition, a family of satellite repeats that is enriched on the X chromosome, the 1.688X repeats, promotes recruitment of the complex to nearby genes. The 1.688X repeats and CES are dissimilar, and appear to operate through different mechanisms. Interestingly, the siRNA pathway and siRNA from a 1.688X repeat also promote X recognition. We postulate that siRNA-dependent modification of 1.688X chromatin contributes to recognition of nearby genes. In accord with this, we found enrichment of the siRNA effector Argonaute2 (Ago2) at some 1.688X repeats. Mutations in several proteins that physically interact with Ago2, including the histone methyltransferase Su(var)3-9, enhance the lethality of males with defective X recognition. Su(var)3-9 deposits H3K9me2 on some 1.688X repeats, and this mark is disrupted upon ectopic expression of 1.688X siRNA. Furthermore, integration of 1.688X DNA on an autosome induces local H3K9me2 deposition, but enhances expression of nearby genes in a siRNA-dependent manner. Our findings are consistent with a model in which siRNA-directed modification of 1.688X chromatin contributes to recognition of the male X chromosome for dosage compensation.

Notch signaling plays crucial roles in intercellular communications. In Drosophila, the pecanex (pcx) gene, which encodes an evolutionarily conserved multi-pass transmembrane protein, appears to be required to activate Notch signaling in some contexts, especially during neuroblast segregation in the neuroectoderm. Although Pcx has been suggested to contribute to endoplasmic reticulum homeostasis, its functions remain unknown. Here, to elucidate these roles, we performed genetic modifier screens of pcx. We found that pcx heterozygotes lacking its maternal contribution exhibit cold-sensitive lethality, which is attributed to a reduction in Notch signaling at decreased temperatures. Using sets of deletions that uncover most of the second and third chromosomes, we identified four enhancers and two suppressors of the pcx cold-sensitive lethality. Among these, five genes encode known Notch-signaling components: big brain, Delta (Dl), neuralized (neur), Brother of Bearded A (BobA), a member of the Bearded (Brd) family, and N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor 2 (Nsf2). We showed that BobA suppresses Dl endocytosis during neuroblast segregation in the neuroectoderm, as Brd family genes reportedly do in the mesoderm for mesectoderm specification. Analyses of Nsf2, a key regulator of vesicular fusion, suggested a novel role in neuroblast segregation, which is distinct from Nsf2’s previously reported role in imaginal tissues. Finally, jim lovell, which encodes a potential transcription factor, may play a role in Notch signaling during neuroblast segregation. These results reveal new research avenues for Pcx functions and Notch signaling.

The AP-1 complex is essential for membrane protein traffic via its role in the pinching-off and sorting of secretory vesicles (SVs) from the trans-Golgi and/or endosomes. While its essentiality is undisputed in metazoa, its role in simpler eukaryotes seems less clear. Here, we dissect the role of AP-1 in the filamentous fungus Aspergillus nidulans and show that it is absolutely essential for growth due to its role in clathrin-dependent maintenance of polar traffic of specific membrane cargoes toward the apex of growing hyphae. We provide evidence that AP-1 is involved in both anterograde sorting of RabERab11-labeled SVs and RabA/BRab5-dependent endosome recycling. Additionally, AP-1 is shown to be critical for microtubule and septin organization, further rationalizing its essentiality in cells that face the challenge of cytoskeleton-dependent polarized cargo traffic. This work also opens a novel issue on how nonpolar cargoes, such as transporters, are sorted to the eukaryotic plasma membrane.

The Hsp90 chaperone is regulated by many cochaperones that tune its activities, but how they act to coordinate various steps in the reaction cycle is unclear. The primary role of Saccharomyces cerevisiae Hsp70/Hsp90 cochaperone Sti1 (Hop in mammals) is to bridge Hsp70 and Hsp90 to facilitate client transfer. Sti1 is not essential, so Hsp90 can interact with Hsp70 in vivo without Sti1. Nevertheless, many Hsp90 mutations make Sti1 necessary. We noted that Sti1-dependent mutations cluster in regions proximal to N-terminal domains (SdN) or C-terminal domains (SdC), which are known to be important for interaction with Hsp70 or clients, respectively. To uncover mechanistic details of Sti1–Hsp90 cooperation, we identified intramolecular suppressors of the Hsp90 mutants and assessed their physical, functional, and genetic interactions with Hsp70, Sti1, and other cochaperones. Our findings suggest Hsp90 SdN and SdC mutants depend on the same interaction with Sti1, but for different reasons. Sti1 promoted an essential Hsp70 interaction in the SdN region and supported SdC-region function by establishing an Hsp90 conformation crucial for capturing clients and progressing through the reaction cycle. We find the Hsp70 interaction and relationship with Sti1/Hop is conserved in the human Hsp90 system. Our work consolidates and clarifies much structural, biochemical, and computational data to define in vivo roles of Sti1/Hop in coordinating Hsp70 binding and client transfer with progression of the Hsp90 reaction cycle.

Stem cells reside in specialized niches and are regulated by a variety of physiological inputs. Adipocytes influence whole-body physiology and stem cell lineages; however, the molecular mechanisms linking adipocytes to stem cells are poorly understood. Here, we report that collagen IV produced in adipocytes is transported to the ovary to maintain proper germline stem cell (GSC) number in adult Drosophila females. Adipocyte-derived collagen IV acts through β-integrin signaling to maintain normal levels of E-cadherin at the niche, thereby ensuring proper adhesion to GSCs. These findings demonstrate that extracellular matrix components produced in adipocytes can be transported to and incorporated into an established adult tissue to influence stem cell number.

Memory formation is achieved by genetically tightly controlled molecular pathways that result in a change of synaptic strength and synapse organization. While for short-term memory traces, rapidly acting biochemical pathways are in place, the formation of long-lasting memories requires changes in the transcriptional program of a cell. Although many genes involved in learning and memory formation have been identified, little is known about the genetic mechanisms required for changing the transcriptional program during different phases of long-term memory (LTM) formation. With Drosophila melanogaster as a model system, we profiled transcriptomic changes in the mushroom body—a memory center in the fly brain—at distinct time intervals during appetitive olfactory LTM formation using the targeted DamID technique. We describe the gene expression profiles during these phases and tested 33 selected candidate genes for deficits in LTM formation using RNAi knockdown. We identified 10 genes that enhance or decrease memory when knocked-down in the mushroom body. For vajk-1 and hacd1—the two strongest hits—we gained further support for their crucial role in appetitive learning and forgetting. These findings show that profiling gene expression changes in specific cell-types harboring memory traces provides a powerful entry point to identify new genes involved in learning and memory. The presented transcriptomic data may further be used as resource to study genes acting at different memory phases.

Behavioral plasticity allows for context-dependent prioritization of competing drives, such as sleep and foraging. Despite the identification of neuropeptides and hormones implicated in dual control of sleep drive and appetite, our understanding of the mechanism underlying the conserved sleep-suppressing effect of food deprivation is limited. Caenorhabditis elegans provides an intriguing model for the dissection of sleep function and regulation as these nematodes engage a quiescence program following exposure to noxious conditions, a phenomenon known as stress-induced sleep (SIS). Here we show that food deprivation potently suppresses SIS, an effect enhanced at high population density. We present evidence that food deprivation reduces the need to sleep, protecting against the lethality associated with defective SIS. Additionally, we find that SIS is regulated by both target of rapamycin and transforming growth factor-β nutrient signaling pathways, thus identifying mechanisms coordinating sleep drive with internal and external indicators of food availability.

A major event in germline development is the transition from stem/progenitor cells to entry into meiosis and gametogenesis. This transition requires downregulation of mitotic cell cycle activity and upregulation of processes associated with meiosis. We identify the Caenorhabditis elegans SCFPROM-1 E3 ubiquitin-ligase complex as functioning to downregulate mitotic cell cycle protein levels including cyclin E, WAPL-1, and KNL-2 at meiotic entry and, independently, promoting homologous chromosome pairing as a positive regulator of the CHK-2 kinase. SCFPROM-1 is thus a novel regulator of meiotic entry, coordinating downregulation of mitotic cell cycle proteins and promoting homolog pairing. We further show that SCFPROM-1 functions redundantly, in parallel to the previously described GLD-1 and GLD-2 meiotic entry pathways, downstream of and inhibited by GLP-1 Notch signaling, which specifies the stem cell fate. Accordingly, C. elegans employs three post-transcriptional pathways, SCFPROM-1-mediated protein degradation, GLD-1-mediated translational repression, and GLD-2-mediated translational activation, to control and coordinate the initiation of meiotic development.

Sterile castes are a defining criterion of eusociality; investigating their evolutionary origins can critically advance theory. In termites, the soldier caste is regarded as the first acquired permanently sterile caste. Previous studies showed that juvenile hormone (JH) is the primary factor inducing soldier differentiation, and treatment of workers with artificial JH can generate presoldier differentiation. It follows that a shift from a typical hemimetabolous JH response might be required for soldier formation during the course of termite evolution within the cockroach clade. To address this possibility, analysis of the role of JH and its signaling pathway was performed in the termite Zootermopsis nevadensis and compared with the wood roach Cryptocercus punctulatus, a member of the sister group of termites. Treatment with a JH analog (JHA) induced a nymphal molt in C. punctulatus. RNA interference (RNAi) of JH receptor Methoprene tolerant (Met) was then performed, and it inhibited the presoldier molt in Z. nevadensis and the nymphal molt in C. punctulatus. Knockdown of Met in both species inhibited expression of 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E; the active form of ecdysone) synthesis genes. However, in Z. nevadensis, several 20E signaling genes were specifically inhibited by Met RNAi. Consequently, RNAi of these genes were performed in JHA-treated termite individuals. Knockdown of 20E signaling and nuclear receptor gene, Hormone receptor 39 (HR39/FTZ-F1β) resulted in newly molted individuals with normal worker phenotypes. This is the first report of the JH–Met signaling feature in termites and Cryptocercus. JH-dependent molting activation is shared by both taxa and mediation between JH receptor and 20E signalings for soldier morphogenesis is specific to termites.

Purifying selection reduces genetic diversity, both at sites under direct selection and at linked neutral sites. This process, known as background selection, is thought to play an important role in shaping genomic diversity in natural populations. Yet despite its importance, the effects of background selection are not fully understood. Previous theoretical analyses of this process have taken a backward-time approach based on the structured coalescent. While they provide some insight, these methods are either limited to very small samples or are computationally prohibitive. Here, we present a new forward-time analysis of the trajectories of both neutral and deleterious mutations at a nonrecombining locus. We find that strong purifying selection leads to remarkably rich dynamics: neutral mutations can exhibit sweep-like behavior, and deleterious mutations can reach substantial frequencies even when they are guaranteed to eventually go extinct. Our analysis of these dynamics allows us to calculate analytical expressions for the full site frequency spectrum. We find that whenever background selection is strong enough to lead to a reduction in genetic diversity, it also results in substantial distortions to the site frequency spectrum, which can mimic the effects of population expansions or positive selection. Because these distortions are most pronounced in the low and high frequency ends of the spectrum, they become particularly important in larger samples, but may have small effects in smaller samples. We also apply our forward-time framework to calculate other quantities, such as the ultimate fates of polymorphisms or the fitnesses of their ancestral backgrounds.

Adaptive introgression is common in nature and can be driven by selection acting on multiple, linked genes. We explore the effects of polygenic selection on introgression under the infinitesimal model with linkage. This model assumes that the introgressing block has an effectively infinite number of loci, each with an infinitesimal effect on the trait under selection. The block is assumed to introgress under directional selection within a native population that is genetically homogeneous. We use individual-based simulations and a branching process framework to compute various statistics of the introgressing block, and explore how these depend on parameters such as the map length and initial trait value associated with the introgressing block, the genetic variability along the block, and the strength of selection. Our results show that the introgression dynamics of a block under infinitesimal selection are qualitatively different from the dynamics of neutral introgression. We also find that, in the long run, surviving descendant blocks are likely to have intermediate lengths, and clarify how their length is shaped by the interplay between linkage and infinitesimal selection. Our results suggest that it may be difficult to distinguish the long-term introgression of a block of genome with a single, strongly selected, locus from the introgression of a block with multiple, tightly linked and weakly selected loci.

Domestic animals can serve as model systems of adaptive introgression and their genomic signatures. In part, their usefulness as model systems is due to their well-known histories. Different breeding strategies such as introgression and artificial selection have generated numerous desirable phenotypes and superior performance in domestic animals. The modern Danish Red Dairy Cattle is studied as an example of an introgressed population. It originates from crossing the traditional Danish Red Dairy Cattle with the Holstein and Brown Swiss breeds, both known for high milk production. This crossing happened, among other things due to changes in the production system, to raise milk production and overall performance. The genomes of modern Danish Red Dairy Cattle are heavily influenced by regions introgressed from the Holstein and Brown Swiss breeds and under subsequent selection in the admixed population. The introgressed proportion of the genome was found to be highly variable across the genome. Haplotypes introgressed from Holstein and Brown Swiss contained or overlapped known genes affecting milk production, as well as protein and fat content (CD14, ZNF215, BCL2L12, and THRSP for Holstein origin and ITPR2, BCAT1, LAP3, and MED28 for Brown Swiss origin). Genomic regions with high introgression signals also contained genes and enriched QTL associated with calving traits, body confirmation, feed efficiency, carcass, and fertility traits. These introgressed signals with relative identity-by-descent scores larger than the median showing Holstein or Brown Swiss introgression are mostly significantly correlated with the corresponding test statistics from signatures of selection analyses in modern Danish Red Dairy Cattle. Meanwhile, the putative significant introgressed signals have a significant dependency with the putative significant signals from signatures of selection analyses. Artificial selection has played an important role in the genomic footprints of introgression in the genome of modern Danish Red Dairy Cattle. Our study on a modern cattle breed contributes to an understanding of genomic consequences of selective introgression by demonstrating the extent to which adaptive effects contribute to shape the specific genomic consequences of introgression.

There are essentially an infinite number of traits that could be measured on any organism, and almost all individual traits display genetic variation, yet substantial genetic variance in a large number of independent traits is not plausible under basic models of selection and mutation. One mechanism that may be invoked to explain the observed levels of genetic variance in individual traits is that pleiotropy results in fewer dimensions of phenotypic space with substantial genetic variance. Multivariate genetic analyses of small sets of functionally related traits have shown that standing genetic variance is often concentrated in relatively few dimensions. It is unknown if a similar concentration of genetic variance occurs at a phenome-wide scale when many traits of disparate function are considered, or if the genetic variance generated by new mutations is also unevenly distributed across phenotypic space. Here, we used a Bayesian sparse factor model to characterize the distribution of mutational variance of 3385 gene expression traits of Drosophila serrata after 27 generations of mutation accumulation, and found that 46% of the estimated mutational variance was concentrated in just 21 dimensions with significant mutational heritability. We show that the extent of concentration of mutational variance into such a small subspace has the potential to substantially bias the response to selection of these traits.

Phenotypic evolution and speciation depend on recombination in many ways. Within populations, recombination can promote adaptation by bringing together favorable mutations and decoupling beneficial and deleterious alleles. As populations diverge, crossing over can give rise to maladapted recombinants and impede or reverse diversification. Suppressed recombination due to genomic rearrangements, modifier alleles, and intrinsic chromosomal properties may offer a shield against maladaptive gene flow eroding coadapted gene complexes. Both theoretical and empirical results support this relationship. However, little is known about this relationship in the context of behavioral isolation, where coevolving signals and preferences are the major hybridization barrier. Here we examine the genomic architecture of recently diverged, sexually isolated Hawaiian swordtail crickets (Laupala). We assemble a de novo genome and generate three dense linkage maps from interspecies crosses. In line with expectations based on the species’ recent divergence and successful interbreeding in the laboratory, the linkage maps are highly collinear and show no evidence for large-scale chromosomal rearrangements. Next, the maps were used to anchor the assembly to pseudomolecules and estimate recombination rates across the genome to test the hypothesis that loci involved in behavioral isolation (song and preference divergence) are in regions of low interspecific recombination. Contrary to our expectations, the genomic region where a male song and female preference QTL colocalize is not associated with particularly low recombination rates. This study provides important novel genomic resources for an emerging evolutionary genetics model system and suggests that trait–preference coevolution is not necessarily facilitated by locally suppressed recombination.

Disease phenotypes can be highly variable among individuals with the same pathogenic mutation. There is increasing evidence that background genetic variation is a strong driver of disease variability in addition to the influence of environment. To understand the genotype–phenotype relationship that determines the expressivity of a pathogenic mutation, a large number of backgrounds must be studied. This can be efficiently achieved using model organism collections such as the Drosophila Genetic Reference Panel (DGRP). Here, we used the DGRP to assess the variability of locomotor dysfunction in a LRRK2 G2019S Drosophila melanogaster model of Parkinson’s disease (PD). We find substantial variability in the LRRK2 G2019S locomotor phenotype in different DGRP backgrounds. A genome-wide association study for candidate genetic modifiers reveals 177 genes that drive wide phenotypic variation, including 19 top association genes. Genes involved in the outgrowth and regulation of neuronal projections are enriched in these candidate modifiers. RNAi functional testing of the top association and neuronal projection-related genes reveals that pros, pbl, ct, and CG33506 significantly modify age-related dopamine neuron loss and associated locomotor dysfunction in the Drosophila LRRK2 G2019S model. These results demonstrate how natural genetic variation can be used as a powerful tool to identify genes that modify disease-related phenotypes. We report novel candidate modifier genes for LRRK2 G2019S that may be used to interrogate the link between LRRK2, neurite regulation and neuronal degeneration in PD.



Genetic Diseases

When medical researchers want to investigate serious genetic diseases, they have to find ways to locate the corresponding risk genes. There are relatively few of these risk genes out of the 100,000 genes in the human cell, so it obviously is not an easy task...
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A gene with a known location on a chromosome and a clear-cut phenotype, used as a point of reference when mapping a new mutant.