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

Genetic News

The Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal recognizes lifetime contributions to the field of genetics. The 2020 recipient is Gerald R. Fink of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, recognizing the discovery of principles central to genome organization and regulation in eukaryotic cells.

The Genetics Society of America’s (GSA’s) Edward Novitski Prize recognizes a single experimental accomplishment or a body of work in which an exceptional level of creativity, and intellectual ingenuity, has been used to design and execute scientific experiments to solve a difficult problem in genetics. The 2020 recipient is Welcome W. Bender of Harvard Medical School, recognizing his creativity and ingenuity in revealing the molecular nature and regulation of the bithorax gene complex.

The term interchromosomal effect was originally used to describe a change in the distribution of exchange in the presence of an inversion. First characterized in the 1920s by early Drosophila researchers, it has been observed in multiple organisms. Nearly half a century later, the term began to appear in the human genetics literature to describe the hypothesis that parental chromosome differences, such as translocations or inversions, may increase the frequency of meiotic chromosome nondisjunction. Although it remains unclear if chromosome aberrations truly affect the segregation of structurally normal chromosomes in humans, the use of the term interchromosomal effect in this context persists. This article explores the history of the use of the term interchromosomal effect and discusses how chromosomes with structural aberrations are segregated during meiosis.

Since the dawn of the 20th century, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has been used as a model organism to understand the nature of genes and how they control development, behavior, and physiology. One of the most powerful experimental approaches employed in Drosophila is the forward genetic screen. In the 21st century, genome-wide screens have become popular tools for identifying evolutionarily conserved genes involved in complex human diseases. In the accompanying article "Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Modifiers in Drosophila Reveal the Phospholipase D Pathway as a Potential Therapeutic Target," Kankel and colleagues describe a forward genetic modifier screen to discover factors that contribute to the severe neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This primer briefly traces the history of genetic screens in Drosophila and introduces students to ALS. We then provide a set of guided reading questions to help students work through the data presented in the research article. Finally, several ideas for literature-based research projects are offered as opportunities for students to expand their appreciation of the potential scope of genetic screens. The primer is intended to help students and instructors thoroughly examine a current study that uses forward genetics in Drosophila to identify human disease genes.

CRISPR genome editing has revolutionized genetics in many organisms. In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, one injection into each of the two gonad arms of an adult hermaphrodite exposes hundreds of meiotic germ cells to editing mixtures, permitting the recovery of multiple indels or small precision edits from each successfully injected animal. Unfortunately, particularly for long insertions, editing efficiencies can vary widely, necessitating multiple injections, and often requiring coselection strategies. Here, we show that melting double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) donor molecules prior to injection increases the frequency of precise homology-directed repair (HDR) by several fold for longer edits. We describe troubleshooting strategies that enable consistently high editing efficiencies resulting, for example, in up to 100 independent GFP knock-ins from a single injected animal. These efficiencies make C. elegans by far the easiest metazoan to genome edit, removing barriers to the use and adoption of this facile system as a model for understanding animal biology.

The genomic relationship matrix plays a key role in the analysis of genetic diversity, genomic prediction, and genome-wide association studies. The epistatic genomic relationship matrix is a natural generalization of the classic genomic relationship matrix in the sense that it implicitly models the epistatic effects among all markers. Calculating the exact form of the epistatic relationship matrix requires high computational load, and is hence not feasible when the number of markers is large, or when high-degree of epistasis is in consideration. Currently, many studies use the Hadamard product of the classic genomic relationship matrix as an approximation. However, the quality of the approximation is difficult to investigate in the strict mathematical sense. In this study, we derived iterative formulas for the precise form of the epistatic genomic relationship matrix for arbitrary degree of epistasis including both additive and dominance interactions. The key to our theoretical results is the observation of an interesting link between the elements in the genomic relationship matrix and symmetric polynomials, which motivated the application of the corresponding mathematical theory. Based on the iterative formulas, efficient recursive algorithms were implemented. Compared with the approximation by the Hadamard product, our algorithms provided a complete solution to the problem of calculating the exact epistatic genomic relationship matrix. As an application, we showed that our new algorithms easily relieved the computational burden in a previous study on the approximation behavior of two limit models.

DNA methylation, a prototypical epigenetic modification implicated in gene silencing, occurs in many eukaryotes and plays a significant role in the etiology of diseases such as cancer. The filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa places DNA methylation at regions of constitutive heterochromatin such as in centromeres and in other A:T-rich regions of the genome, but this modification is dispensable for normal growth and development. This and other features render N. crassa an excellent model to genetically dissect elements of the DNA methylation pathway. We implemented a forward genetic selection on a massive scale, utilizing two engineered antibiotic-resistance genes silenced by DNA methylation, to isolate mutants defective in methylation (dim). Hundreds of potential mutants were characterized, yielding a rich collection of informative alleles of 11 genes important for DNA methylation, most of which were already reported. In parallel, we characterized the pairwise interactions in nuclei of the DCDC, the only histone H3 lysine 9 methyltransferase complex in Neurospora, including those between the DIM-5 catalytic subunit and other complex members. We also dissected the N- and C-termini of the key protein DIM-7, required for DIM-5 histone methyltransferase localization and activation. Lastly, we identified two alleles of a novel gene, dim-10 – a homolog of Clr5 in Schizosaccharomyces pombe – that is not essential for DNA methylation, but is necessary for repression of the antibiotic-resistance genes used in the selection, which suggests that both DIM-10 and DNA methylation promote silencing of constitutive heterochromatin.

Polycomb group (PcG) proteins are an important group of transcriptional repressors that act by modifying chromatin. PcG target genes are covered by the repressive chromatin mark H3K27me3. Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) is a multiprotein complex that is responsible for generating H3K27me3. In Drosophila, PRC2 is recruited by Polycomb Response Elements (PREs) and then trimethylates flanking nucleosomes, spreading the H3K27me3 mark over large regions of the genome, the "Polycomb domains." What defines the boundary of a Polycomb domain? There is experimental evidence that insulators, PolII, and active transcription can all form the boundaries of Polycomb domains. Here we divide the boundaries of larval Polycomb domains into six different categories. In one category, genes are transcribed toward the Polycomb domain, where active transcription is thought to stop the spreading of H3K27me3. In agreement with this, we show that introducing a transcriptional terminator into such a transcription unit causes an extension of the Polycomb domain. Additional data suggest that active transcription of a boundary gene may restrict the range of enhancer activity of a Polycomb-regulated gene.

The polarized partitioning of proteins in cells underlies asymmetric cell division, which is an important driver of development and cellular diversity. The budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae divides asymmetrically, like many other cells, to generate two distinct progeny cells. A well-known example of an asymmetric protein is the transcription factor Ace2, which localizes specifically to the daughter nucleus, where it drives a daughter-specific transcriptional network. We screened a collection of essential genes to analyze the effects of core cellular processes in asymmetric cell division based on Ace2 localization. This screen identified mutations that affect progression through the cell cycle, suggesting that cell cycle delay is sufficient to disrupt Ace2 asymmetry. To test this model, we blocked cells from progressing through mitosis and found that prolonged metaphase delay is sufficient to disrupt Ace2 asymmetry after release, and that Ace2 asymmetry is restored after cytokinesis. We also demonstrate that members of the evolutionarily conserved facilitates chromatin transcription (FACT) chromatin-reorganizing complex are required for both asymmetric and cell cycle-regulated localization of Ace2, and for localization of the RAM network components.

Ring canals in the female germline of Drosophila melanogaster are supported by a robust filamentous actin (F-actin) cytoskeleton, setting them apart from ring canals in other species and tissues. Previous work has identified components required for the expansion of the ring canal actin cytoskeleton, but has not identified the proteins responsible for F-actin recruitment or accumulation. Using a combination of CRISPR-Cas9 mediated mutagenesis and UAS-Gal4 overexpression, we show that HtsRC—a component specific to female germline ring canals—is both necessary and sufficient to drive F-actin accumulation. Absence of HtsRC in the germline resulted in ring canals lacking inner rim F-actin, while overexpression of HtsRC led to larger ring canals. HtsRC functions in combination with Filamin to recruit F-actin to ectopic actin structures in somatic follicle cells. Finally, we present findings that indicate that HtsRC expression and robust female germline ring canal expansion are important for high fecundity in fruit flies but dispensable for their fertility—a result that is consistent with our understanding of HtsRC as a newly evolved gene specific to female germline ring canals.

Sleep is a conserved behavioral state. Invertebrates typically show quiet sleep, whereas in mammals, sleep consists of periods of nonrapid-eye-movement sleep (NREMS) and REM sleep (REMS). We previously found that the transcription factor AP-2 promotes sleep in Caenorhabditis elegans and Drosophila. In mammals, several paralogous AP-2 transcription factors exist. Sleep-controlling genes are often conserved. However, little is known about how sleep genes evolved from controlling simpler types of sleep to govern complex mammalian sleep. Here, we studied the roles of Tfap2a and Tfap2b in sleep control in mice. Consistent with our results from C. elegans and Drosophila, the AP-2 transcription factors Tfap2a and Tfap2b also control sleep in mice. Surprisingly, however, the two AP-2 paralogs play contrary roles in sleep control. Tfap2a reduction of function causes stronger delta and theta power in both baseline and homeostasis analysis, thus indicating increased sleep quality, but did not affect sleep quantity. By contrast, Tfap2b reduction of function decreased NREM sleep time specifically during the dark phase, reduced NREMS and REMS power, and caused a weaker response to sleep deprivation. Consistent with the observed signatures of decreased sleep quality, stress resistance and memory were impaired in Tfap2b mutant animals. Also, the circadian period was slightly shortened. Taken together, AP-2 transcription factors control sleep behavior also in mice, but the role of the AP-2 genes functionally diversified to allow for a bidirectional control of sleep quality. Divergence of AP-2 transcription factors might perhaps have supported the evolution of more complex types of sleep.

The molecular mechanism regulating sleep largely remains to be elucidated. In humans, families that carry mutations in TFAP2B, which encodes the transcription factor AP-2β, self-reported sleep abnormalities such as short-sleep and parasomnia. Notably, AP-2 transcription factors play essential roles in sleep regulation in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Thus, AP-2 transcription factors might have a conserved role in sleep regulation across the animal phyla. However, direct evidence supporting the involvement of TFAP2B in mammalian sleep was lacking. In this study, by using the CRISPR/Cas9 technology, we generated two Tfap2b mutant mouse strains, Tfap2bK144 and Tfap2bK145, each harboring a single-nucleotide mutation within the introns of Tfap2b mimicking the mutations in two human kindreds that self-reported sleep abnormalities. The effects of these mutations were compared with those of a Tfap2b knockout allele (Tfap2b). The protein expression level of TFAP2B in the embryonic brain was reduced to about half in Tfap2b+/– mice and was further reduced in Tfap2b–/– mice. By contrast, the protein expression level was normal in Tfap2bK145/+ mice but was reduced in Tfap2bK145/K145 mice to a similar extent as Tfap2b–/– mice. Tfap2bK144/+ and Tfap2bK144/K144 showed normal protein expression levels. Tfap2b+/– female mice showed increased wakefulness time and decreased nonrapid eye movement sleep (NREMS) time. By contrast, Tfap2bK145/+ female mice showed an apparently normal amount of sleep but instead exhibited fragmented NREMS, whereas Tfap2bK144/+ male mice showed reduced NREMS time specifically in the dark phase. Finally, in the adult brain, Tfap2b-LacZ expression was detected in the superior colliculus, locus coeruleus, cerebellum, and the nucleus of solitary tract. These findings provide direct evidence that TFAP2B influences NREMS amounts in mice and also show that different mutations in Tfap2b can lead to diverse effects on sleep architecture.

Convergent evolution can occur through different genetic mechanisms in different species. It is now clear that convergence at the genetic level is also widespread, and can be caused by either (i) parallel genetic evolution, where independently evolved convergent mutations arise in different populations or species, or (ii) collateral evolution in which shared ancestry results from either ancestral polymorphism or introgression among taxa. The adaptive radiation of Heliconius butterflies shows color pattern variation within species, as well as mimetic convergence between species. Using comparisons from across multiple hybrid zones, we use signals of shared ancestry to identify and refine multiple putative regulatory elements in Heliconius melpomene and its comimics, Heliconius elevatus and Heliconius besckei, around three known major color patterning genes: optix, WntA, and cortex. While we find that convergence between H. melpomene and H. elevatus is caused by a complex history of collateral evolution via introgression in the Amazon, convergence between these species in the Guianas appears to have evolved independently. Thus, we find adaptive convergent genetic evolution to be a key driver of regulatory changes that lead to rapid phenotypic changes. Furthermore, we uncover evidence of parallel genetic evolution at some loci around optix and WntA in H. melpomene and its distant comimic Heliconius erato. Ultimately, we show that all three of convergence, conservation, and novelty underlie the modular architecture of Heliconius color pattern mimicry.

The biological basis of exercise behavior is increasingly relevant for maintaining healthy lifestyles. Various quantitative genetic studies and selection experiments have conclusively demonstrated substantial heritability for exercise behavior in both humans and laboratory rodents. In the "High Runner" selection experiment, four replicate lines of Mus domesticus were bred for high voluntary wheel running (HR), along with four nonselected control (C) lines. After 61 generations, the genomes of 79 mice (9–10 from each line) were fully sequenced and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were identified. We used nested ANOVA with MIVQUE estimation and other approaches to compare allele frequencies between the HR and C lines for both SNPs and haplotypes. Approximately 61 genomic regions, across all somatic chromosomes, showed evidence of differentiation; 12 of these regions were differentiated by all methods of analysis. Gene function was inferred largely using Panther gene ontology terms and KO phenotypes associated with genes of interest. Some of the differentiated genes are known to be associated with behavior/motivational systems and/or athletic ability, including Sorl1, Dach1, and Cdh10. Sorl1 is a sorting protein associated with cholinergic neuron morphology, vascular wound healing, and metabolism. Dach1 is associated with limb bud development and neural differentiation. Cdh10 is a calcium ion binding protein associated with phrenic neurons. Overall, these results indicate that selective breeding for high voluntary exercise has resulted in changes in allele frequencies for multiple genes associated with both motivation and ability for endurance exercise, providing candidate genes that may explain phenotypic changes observed in previous studies.

How gene expression can evolve depends on the mechanisms driving gene expression. Gene expression is controlled in different ways in different developmental stages; here we ask whether different developmental stages show different patterns of regulatory evolution. To explore the mode of regulatory evolution, we used the early stages of embryonic development controlled by two different genomes, that of the mother and that of the zygote. During embryogenesis in all animals, initial developmental processes are driven entirely by maternally provided gene products deposited into the oocyte. The zygotic genome is activated later, when developmental control is handed off from maternal gene products to the zygote during the maternal-to-zygotic transition. Using hybrid crosses between sister species of Drosophila (D. simulans, D. sechellia, and D. mauritiana) and transcriptomics, we find that the regulation of maternal transcript deposition and zygotic transcription evolve through different mechanisms. We find that patterns of transcript level inheritance in hybrids, relative to parental species, differ between maternal and zygotic transcripts, and maternal transcript levels are more likely to be conserved. Changes in transcript levels occur predominantly through differences in trans regulation for maternal genes, while changes in zygotic transcription occur through a combination of both cis and trans regulatory changes. Differences in the underlying regulatory landscape in the mother and the zygote are likely the primary determinants for how maternal and zygotic transcripts evolve.



Genetic Ethics

The advances in genetic mapping have made very real what seemed so improbable twenty years ago. ... Genetic mapping is a powerful tool ... but it is also vulnerable to abuse. Many ethical, legal and societal issues are beginning to emerge...
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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.