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

Genetic News

The Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal is awarded to an individual member of the Genetics Society of America for lifetime achievement in the field of genetics. It recognizes the full body of work of an exceptional geneticist. The 2017 recipient is Richard C. Lewontin, whose contributions and influence have profoundly shaped the field of evolutionary genetics. As a testament to this legacy, his nomination for the Morgan Medal was cosigned by 160 faculty members from around the world. A student of Theodosius Dobzhansky, Lewontin’s early work established the two-locus theory, which laid the foundation for our understanding of linkage disequilibrium. In the 1960s, he collaborated with biochemist Jack Hubby on a method to quantify natural genetic variation using protein gel electrophoresis. This approach helped launch the field of molecular evolution and spurred a great influx of data into a formerly theory-dominated domain. The subsequent contributions of Lewontin and his group helped set the stage for much of modern population genetics and genomics research. As well as this direct impact, Lewontin influenced the field through his guidance and inspiration, as well as through his capacity to spur vigorous but productive debates. His prominent role as a writer and social commentator included highlighting problems with the inference of heritability, concepts of race, and the overemphasis of genetic influences on phenotypes.

THE Genetics Society of America’s (GSA) George W. Beadle Award honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the community of genetics researchers and who exemplify the qualities of its namesake. The 2017 recipient is Susan A. Gerbi, who has been a prominent leader and advocate for the scientific community. In the course of her research on DNA replication, Gerbi helped develop the method of Replication Initiation Point (RIP) mapping to map replication origins at the nucleotide level, improving resolution by two orders of magnitude. RIP mapping also provides the basis for the now popular use of -exonuclease to enrich nascent DNA to map replication origins genome-wide. Gerbi’s second area of research on ribosomal RNA revealed a conserved core secondary structure, as well as conserved nucleotide elements (CNEs). Some CNEs are universally conserved, while other CNEs are conserved in all eukaryotes but not in archaea or bacteria, suggesting a eukaryotic function. Intriguingly, the majority of the eukaryotic-specific CNEs line the tunnel of the large ribosomal subunit through which the nascent polypeptide exits. Gerbi has promoted the fly Sciara coprophila as a model organism ever since she used its enormous polytene chromosomes to help develop the method of in situ hybridization during her Ph.D. research in Joe Gall’s laboratory. The Gerbi laboratory maintains the Sciara International Stock Center and manages its future, actively spreading Sciara stocks to other laboratories. Gerbi has also served in many leadership roles, working on issues of science policy, women in science, scientific training, and career preparation. This is an abridged version of the interview. The full interview is available on the Genes to Genomes blog, at

The Genetics Society of America’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 2017 winner, Jonathan Hodgkin, used elegant genetic studies to unravel the sex determination pathway in Caenorhabditis elegans. He inferred the order of genes in the pathway and their modes of regulation using epistasis analyses—a powerful tool that was quickly adopted by other researchers. He expanded the number and use of informational suppressor mutants in C. elegans that are able to act on many genes. He also introduced the use of collections of wild C. elegans to study naturally occurring genetic variation, paving the way for SNP mapping and QTL analysis, as well as studies of hybrid incompatibilities between worm species. His current work focuses on nematode–bacterial interactions and innate immunity.

The Genetics Society of America Medal is awarded to an individual for outstanding contributions to the field of genetics in the last 15 years. Recipients of the GSA Medal are recognized for elegant and highly meaningful contributions to modern genetics, exemplifying the ingenuity of GSA membership. The 2017 recipient is David M. Kingsley, whose work in mouse, sticklebacks, and humans has shifted paradigms about how vertebrates evolve. Kingsley first fell in love with genetics in graduate school, where he worked on receptor mediated endocytosis with Monty Krieger. In his postdoctoral training he was able to unite genetics with his first scientific love: vertebrate morphology. He joined the group of Neal Copeland and Nancy Jenkins, where he led efforts to map the classical mouse skeletal mutation short ear. Convinced that experimental genetics had a unique power to reveal the inner workings of evolution, Kingsley then established the stickleback fish as an extraordinarily productive model of quantitative trait evolution in wild species. He and his colleagues revealed many important insights, including the discoveries that major morphological differences can map to key loci with large effects, that regulatory changes in essential developmental control genes have produced advantageous new traits, and that nature has selected the same genes over and over again to drive the stickleback’s skeletal evolution. Recently, Kingsley’s group has been using these lessons to reveal more about how our own species evolved.

This is an abridged version of the interview. The full interview is available on the Genes to Genomes blog, at

The Genetics Society of America’s Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education recognizes significant and sustained impact on genetics education. The 2017 recipient is Sally G. Hoskins, in recognition of her role in developing and promoting the transformative science education method CREATE (Consider, Read, Elucidate hypotheses, Analyze and interpret data, and Think of the next Experiment). This innovative approach uses primary literature to engage students, allowing them to experience for themselves the creativity and challenge of study design, analysis, interpretation, collaboration, and debate. Comprehensive evaluation of CREATE has consistently found that students improve in difficult-to-teach skills like critical thinking and experimental design, while showing improved attitudes and beliefs about science.

This is an abridged version of the interview. The full interview is available on the Genes to Genomes blog, at

Carbohydrate metabolism is essential for cellular energy balance as well as for the biosynthesis of new cellular building blocks. As animal nutrient intake displays temporal fluctuations and each cell type within the animal possesses specific metabolic needs, elaborate regulatory systems are needed to coordinate carbohydrate metabolism in time and space. Carbohydrate metabolism is regulated locally through gene regulatory networks and signaling pathways, which receive inputs from nutrient sensors as well as other pathways, such as developmental signals. Superimposed on cell-intrinsic control, hormonal signaling mediates intertissue information to maintain organismal homeostasis. Misregulation of carbohydrate metabolism is causative for many human diseases, such as diabetes and cancer. Recent work in Drosophila melanogaster has uncovered new regulators of carbohydrate metabolism and introduced novel physiological roles for previously known pathways. Moreover, genetically tractable Drosophila models to study carbohydrate metabolism-related human diseases have provided new insight into the mechanisms of pathogenesis. Due to the high degree of conservation of relevant regulatory pathways, as well as vast possibilities for the analysis of gene–nutrient interactions and tissue-specific gene function, Drosophila is emerging as an important model system for research on carbohydrate metabolism.

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has emerged as a powerful model for investigating the molecular mechanisms that regulate animal metabolism. However, a major limitation of these studies is that many metabolic assays are tedious, dedicated to analyzing a single molecule, and rely on indirect measurements. As a result, Drosophila geneticists commonly use candidate gene approaches, which, while important, bias studies toward known metabolic regulators. In an effort to expand the scope of Drosophila metabolic studies, we used the classic mutant lysine (lys) to demonstrate how a modern metabolomics approach can be used to conduct forward genetic studies. Using an inexpensive and well-established gas chromatography-mass spectrometry-based method, we genetically mapped and molecularly characterized lys by using free lysine levels as a phenotypic readout. Our efforts revealed that lys encodes the Drosophila homolog of Lysine Ketoglutarate Reductase/Saccharopine Dehydrogenase, which is required for the enzymatic degradation of lysine. Furthermore, this approach also allowed us to simultaneously survey a large swathe of intermediate metabolism, thus demonstrating that Drosophila lysine catabolism is complex and capable of influencing seemingly unrelated metabolic pathways. Overall, our study highlights how a combination of Drosophila forward genetics and metabolomics can be used for unbiased studies of animal metabolism, and demonstrates that a single enzymatic step is intricately connected to diverse aspects of metabolism.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae contains two genes for each core histone, which are presented as pairs under the control of a divergent promoter, i.e., HHT1-HHF1, HHT2-HHF2, HTA1-HTB1 and HTA2-HTB2. HHT1-HHF1, and HHT2-HHF2 encode histone H3 and H4 with identical amino acid sequences but under the control of differently regulated promoters. Previous mutagenesis studies were carried out by deleting one pair and mutating the other one. Here, we present the design and construction of three additional libraries covering HTA1-HTB1, HTA2-HTB2, and HHT1-HHF1 respectively. Together with the previously described library of HHT2-HHF2 mutants, a systematic and complete collection of mutants for each of the eight core S. cerevisiae histone genes becomes available. Each designed mutant was incorporated into the genome, generating three more corresponding libraries of yeast strains. We demonstrated that, although, under normal growth conditions, strains with single-copy integrated histone genes lacked phenotypes, in some growth conditions, growth deficiencies were observed. Specifically, we showed that addition of a second copy of the mutant histone gene could rescue the lethality in some previously known mutants that cannot survive with a single copy. This resource enables systematic studies of function of each nucleosome residue in plasmid, single-copy, and double-copy integrated formats.

Testing for the existence of variance components in linear mixed models is a fundamental task in many applicative fields. In statistical genetics, the score test has recently become instrumental in the task of testing an association between a set of genetic markers and a phenotype. With few markers, this amounts to set-based variance component tests, which attempt to increase power in association studies by aggregating weak individual effects. When the entire genome is considered, it allows testing for the heritability of a phenotype, defined as the proportion of phenotypic variance explained by genetics. In the popular score-based Sequence Kernel Association Test (SKAT) method, the assumed distribution of the score test statistic is uncalibrated in small samples, with a correction being computationally expensive. This may cause severe inflation or deflation of P-values, even when the null hypothesis is true. Here, we characterize the conditions under which this discrepancy holds, and show it may occur also in large real datasets, such as a dataset from the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium 2 (n = 13,950) study, and, in particular, when the individuals in the sample are unrelated. In these cases, the SKAT approximation tends to be highly overconservative and therefore underpowered. To address this limitation, we suggest an efficient method to calculate exact P-values for the score test in the case of a single variance component and a continuous response vector, which can speed up the analysis by orders of magnitude. Our results enable fast and accurate application of the score test in heritability and in set-based association tests. Our method is available in

There is growing interest in testing genetic pleiotropy, which is when a single genetic variant influences multiple traits. Several methods have been proposed; however, these methods have some limitations. First, all the proposed methods are based on the use of individual-level genotype and phenotype data; in contrast, for logistical, and other, reasons, summary statistics of univariate SNP-trait associations are typically only available based on meta- or mega-analyzed large genome-wide association study (GWAS) data. Second, existing tests are based on marginal pleiotropy, which cannot distinguish between direct and indirect associations of a single genetic variant with multiple traits due to correlations among the traits. Hence, it is useful to consider conditional analysis, in which a subset of traits is adjusted for another subset of traits. For example, in spite of substantial lowering of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) with statin therapy, some patients still maintain high residual cardiovascular risk, and, for these patients, it might be helpful to reduce their triglyceride (TG) level. For this purpose, in order to identify new therapeutic targets, it would be useful to identify genetic variants with pleiotropic effects on LDL and TG after adjusting the latter for LDL; otherwise, a pleiotropic effect of a genetic variant detected by a marginal model could simply be due to its association with LDL only, given the well-known correlation between the two types of lipids. Here, we develop a new pleiotropy testing procedure based only on GWAS summary statistics that can be applied for both marginal analysis and conditional analysis. Although the main technical development is based on published union-intersection testing methods, care is needed in specifying conditional models to avoid invalid statistical estimation and inference. In addition to the previously used likelihood ratio test, we also propose using generalized estimating equations under the working independence model for robust inference. We provide numerical examples based on both simulated and real data, including two large lipid GWAS summary association datasets based on ~100,000 and ~189,000 samples, respectively, to demonstrate the difference between marginal and conditional analyses, as well as the effectiveness of our new approach.

Expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) studies have typically used single-variant association analysis to identify genetic variants correlated with gene expression. However, this approach has several drawbacks: causal variants cannot be distinguished from nonfunctional variants in strong linkage disequilibrium, combined effects from multiple causal variants cannot be captured, and low-frequency (<5% MAF) eQTL variants are difficult to identify. While these issues possibly could be overcome by using sparse polygenic models, which associate multiple genetic variants with gene expression simultaneously, the predictive performance of these models for eQTL studies has not been evaluated. Here, we assessed the ability of three sparse polygenic models (Lasso, Elastic Net, and BSLMM) to identify causal variants, and compared their efficacy to single-variant association analysis and a fine-mapping model. Using simulated data, we determined that, while these methods performed similarly when there was one causal SNP present at a gene, BSLMM substantially outperformed single-variant association analysis for prioritizing causal eQTL variants when multiple causal eQTL variants were present (1.6- to 5.2-fold higher recall at 20% precision), and identified up to 2.3-fold more low frequency variants as the top eQTL SNP. Analysis of real RNA-seq and whole-genome sequencing data of 131 iPSC samples showed that the eQTL SNPs identified by BSLMM had a higher functional enrichment in DHS sites and were more often low-frequency than those identified with single-variant association analysis. Our study showed that BSLMM is a more effective approach than single-variant association analysis for prioritizing multiple causal eQTL variants at a single gene.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae Mek1 is a CHK2/Rad53-family kinase that regulates meiotic recombination and progression upon its activation in response to DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). The full catalog of direct Mek1 phosphorylation targets remains unknown. Here, we show that phosphorylation of histone H3 on threonine 11 (H3 T11ph) is induced by meiotic DSBs in S. cerevisiae and Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Molecular genetic experiments in S. cerevisiae confirmed that Mek1 is required for H3 T11ph and revealed that phosphorylation is rapidly reversed when Mek1 kinase is no longer active. Reconstituting histone phosphorylation in vitro with recombinant proteins demonstrated that Mek1 directly catalyzes H3 T11 phosphorylation. Mutating H3 T11 to nonphosphorylatable residues conferred no detectable defects in otherwise unperturbed meiosis, although the mutations modestly reduced spore viability in certain strains where Rad51 is used for strand exchange in place of Dmc1. H3 T11ph is therefore mostly dispensable for Mek1 function. However, H3 T11ph provides an excellent marker of ongoing Mek1 kinase activity in vivo. Anti-H3 T11ph chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by deep sequencing demonstrated that H3 T11ph was highly enriched at presumed sites of attachment of chromatin to chromosome axes, gave a more modest signal along chromatin loops, and was present at still lower levels immediately adjacent to DSB hotspots. These localization patterns closely tracked the distribution of Red1 and Hop1, axis proteins required for Mek1 activation. These findings provide insight into the spatial disposition of Mek1 kinase activity and the higher order organization of recombining meiotic chromosomes.

BRCA2 loss-of-heterozygosity (LOH) is frequently observed in BRCA2-mutated tumors, but its biallelic loss causes embryonic lethality in mice and inhibits proliferation of normal somatic cells. Therefore, it remains unclear how loss of BRCA2 contributes to tumorigenesis. One possibility is that mutation in potential genetic interactors of BRCA2, such as TRP53, is required for cell survival/proliferation in the absence of BRCA2. In this study, using an insertional mutagenesis screen in mouse embryonic stem cells (mESC), we have identified GIPC3 (GAIP-interacting protein C-terminus 3) as a BRCA2 genetic interactor that contributes to survival of Brca2-null mESC. GIPC3 does not compensate for BRCA2 loss in the repair of double-strand breaks. Mass-spectrometric analysis resulted in the identification of G-protein signaling transducers, APPL1 and APPL2, as potential GIPC3-binding proteins. A mutant GIPC3 (His155Ala) that does not bind to APPL1/2 failed to rescue the lethality of Brca2-null mESC, suggesting that the cell viability by GIPC3 is mediated via APPL1/2. Finally, the physiological significance of GIPC3 as a genetic interactor of BRCA2 is supported by the observation that Brca2-null embryos with Gipc3 overexpression are developmentally more advanced than their control littermates. Taken together, we have uncovered a novel role for GIPC3 as a BRCA2 genetic interactor.

In a genetic screen for mutants showing modified splicing of an alternatively spliced GFP reporter gene in Arabidopsis thaliana, we identified mutations in genes encoding the putative U1 small nuclear ribonucleoprotein (snRNP) factors RBM25 and PRP39a. The latter has not yet been studied for its role in pre-messenger RNA (pre-mRNA) splicing in plants. Both proteins contain predicted RNA-binding domains and have been implicated in 5' splice site selection in yeast and metazoan cells. In rbm25 mutants, splicing efficiency of GFP pre-mRNA was reduced and GFP protein levels lowered relative to wild-type plants. By contrast, prp39a mutants exhibited preferential splicing of a U2-type AT-AC intron in GFP pre-mRNA and elevated levels of GFP protein. These opposing findings indicate that impaired function of either RBM25 or PRP39a can differentially affect the same pre-mRNA substrate. Given a prior genome-wide analysis of alternative splicing in rbm25 mutants, we focused on examining the alternative splicing landscape in prp39a mutants. RNA-seq experiments performed using two independent prp39a alleles revealed hundreds of common genes undergoing changes in alternative splicing, including PRP39a itself, a second putative U1 snRNP component PRP40b, and genes encoding a number of general transcription-related proteins. The prp39a mutants displayed somewhat delayed flowering, shorter stature, and reduced seed set but no other obvious common defects under normal conditions. Mutations in PRP39b, the paralog of PRP39a, did not visibly alter GFP expression, indicating the paralogs are not functionally equivalent in this system. Our study provides new information on the contribution of PRP39a to alternative splicing and expands knowledge of plant splicing factors.

serine threonine kinase1 (stk1) and serine threonine kinase2 (stk2) are closely related maize paralogous genes predicted to encode serine/threonine protein kinases. Pollen mutated in stk1 or stk2 competes poorly with normal pollen, pointing to a defect in pollen tube germination or growth. Both genes are expressed in pollen, but not in most other tissues. In germination media, STK1 and STK2 fluorescent fusion proteins localize to the plasma membrane of the vegetative cell. RNA-seq experiments identified 534 differentially expressed genes in stk1 mutant pollen relative to wild type. Gene ontology (GO) molecular functional analysis uncovered several differentially expressed genes with putative ribosome initiation and elongation functions, suggesting that stk1 might affect ribosome function. Of the two paralogs, stk1 may play a more important role in pollen development than stk2, as stk2 mutations have a smaller pollen transmission effect. However, stk2 does act as an enhancer of stk1 because the double mutant combination is only infrequently pollen-transmitted in double heterozygotes. We conclude that the stk paralogs play an essential role in pollen development.

Dolichols are isoprenoid lipids of varying length that act as sugar carriers in glycosylation reactions in the endoplasmic reticulum. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, there are two cis-prenyltransferases that synthesize polyprenol—an essential precursor to dolichol. These enzymes are heterodimers composed of Nus1 and either Rer2 or Srt1. Rer2-Nus1 and Srt1-Nus1 can both generate dolichol in vegetative cells, but srt1 cells grow normally while rer2 grows very slowly, indicating that Rer2-Nus1 is the primary enzyme used in mitotically dividing cells. In contrast, SRT1 performs an important function in sporulating cells, where the haploid genomes created by meiosis are packaged into spores. The spore wall is a multilaminar structure and SRT1 is required for the generation of the outer chitosan and dityrosine layers of the spore wall. Srt1 specifically localizes to lipid droplets associated with spore walls, and, during sporulation there is an SRT1-dependent increase in long-chain polyprenols and dolichols in these lipid droplets. Synthesis of chitin by Chs3, the chitin synthase responsible for chitosan layer formation, is dependent on the cis-prenyltransferase activity of Srt1, indicating that polyprenols are necessary to coordinate assembly of the spore wall layers. This work shows that a developmentally regulated cis-prenyltransferase can produce polyprenols that function in cellular processes besides protein glycosylation.

FurE, a member of the Nucleobase Cation Symporter 1 transporter family in Aspergillus nidulans, is specific for allantoin, uric acid (UA), uracil, and related analogs. Herein, we show that C- or N-terminally-truncated FurE transporters (FurE-C or FurE-N) present increased protein stability, but also an inability for UA transport. To better understand the role of cytoplasmic terminal regions, we characterized genetic suppressors that restore FurE-C-mediated UA transport. Suppressors map in the periphery of the substrate-binding site [Thr133 in transmembrane segment (TMS)3 and Val343 in TMS8], an outward-facing gate (Ser296 in TMS7, Ile371 in TMS9, and Tyr392 and Leu394 in TMS10), or in flexible loops (Asp26 in LN, Gly222 in L5, and Asn308 in L7). Selected suppressors were also shown to restore the wild-type specificity of FurE-N, suggesting that both C- and/or N-terminal domains are involved in intramolecular dynamics critical for substrate selection. A direct, substrate-sensitive interaction of C- and/or N-terminal domains was supported by bimolecular fluorescence complementation assays. To our knowledge, this is the first case where not only the function, but also the specificity, of a eukaryotic transporter is regulated by its terminal cytoplasmic regions.

Transcription factors (TFs) have emerged as essential cell autonomous mediators of subtype specific dendritogenesis; however, the downstream effectors of these TFs remain largely unknown, as are the cellular events that TFs control to direct morphological change. As dendritic morphology is largely dictated by the organization of the actin and microtubule (MT) cytoskeletons, elucidating TF-mediated cytoskeletal regulatory programs is key to understanding molecular control of diverse dendritic morphologies. Previous studies in Drosophila melanogaster have demonstrated that the conserved TFs Cut and Knot exert combinatorial control over aspects of dendritic cytoskeleton development, promoting actin and MT-based arbor morphology, respectively. To investigate transcriptional targets of Cut and/or Knot regulation, we conducted systematic neurogenomic studies, coupled with in vivo genetic screens utilizing multi-fluor cytoskeletal and membrane marker reporters. These analyses identified a host of putative Cut and/or Knot effector molecules, and a subset of these putative TF targets converge on modulating dendritic cytoskeletal architecture, which are grouped into three major phenotypic categories, based upon neuromorphometric analyses: complexity enhancer, complexity shifter, and complexity suppressor. Complexity enhancer genes normally function to promote higher order dendritic growth and branching with variable effects on MT stabilization and F-actin organization, whereas complexity shifter and complexity suppressor genes normally function in regulating proximal-distal branching distribution or in restricting higher order branching complexity, respectively, with spatially restricted impacts on the dendritic cytoskeleton. Collectively, we implicate novel genes and cellular programs by which TFs distinctly and combinatorially govern dendritogenesis via cytoskeletal modulation.

Motile and immotile (or primary) cilia are microtubule-based structures that mediate multiple cellular functions, including the transduction of environmental cues, developmental signaling, cellular motility, and modulation of fluid flow. Although their core architectures are similar, motile and primary cilia exhibit marked structural differences that underlie distinct functional properties. However, the extent to which ciliogenesis mechanisms are shared between these different cilia types is not fully described. Here, we report that the atypical MAP kinase MAPK15 (ERK7/8), implicated in the formation of vertebrate motile cilia, also regulates the formation of primary cilia in Caenorhabditis elegans sensory neurons and human cells. We find that MAPK15 localizes to a basal body subdomain with the ciliopathy protein BBS7 and to cell–cell junctions. MAPK15 also regulates the localization of ciliary proteins involved in cilium structure, transport, and signaling. Our results describe a primary cilia-related role for this poorly studied member of the MAPK family in vivo, and indicate a broad requirement for MAPK15 in the formation of multiple ciliary classes across species.

Transposons can impact the host genome by altering gene expression and participating in chromosome rearrangements. Therefore, organisms evolved different ways to minimize the level of transposition. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae and its close relative S. paradoxus, Ty1 copy number control (CNC) is mediated by the self-encoded restriction factor p22, which is derived from the GAG capsid gene and inhibits virus-like particle (VLP) assembly and function. Based on secondary screens of Ty1 cofactors, we identified LOC1, a RNA localization/ribosome biogenesis gene that affects Ty1 mobility predominantly in strains harboring Ty1 elements. Ribosomal protein mutants rps0b and rpl7a displayed similar CNC-specific phenotypes as loc1, suggesting that ribosome biogenesis is critical for CNC. The level of Ty1 mRNA and Ty1 internal (Ty1i) transcripts encoding p22 was altered in these mutants, and displayed a trend where the level of Ty1i RNA increased relative to full-length Ty1 mRNA. The level of p22 increased in these mutants, and the half-life of p22 also increased in a loc1 mutant. Transcriptomic analyses revealed small changes in the level of Ty1 transcripts or efficiency of translation initiation in a loc1 mutant. Importantly, a loc1 mutant had defects in assembly of Gag complexes and packaging Ty1 RNA. Our results indicate that defective ribosome biogenesis enhances CNC by increasing the level of p22, and raise the possibility for versatile links between VLP assembly, its cytoplasmic environment, and a novel stress response.

Crosses between Drosophila melanogaster females and Drosophila simulans males produce hybrid sons that die at the larval stage. This hybrid lethality is suppressed by loss-of-function mutations in the D. melanogaster Hybrid male rescue (Hmr) or in the D. simulans Lethal hybrid rescue (Lhr) genes. Previous studies have shown that Hmr and Lhr interact with heterochromatin proteins and suppress expression of transposable elements within D. melanogaster. It also has been proposed that Hmr and Lhr function at the centromere. We examined mitotic divisions in larval brains from Hmr and Lhr single mutants and Hmr; Lhr double mutants in D. melanogaster. In none of the mutants did we observe defects in metaphase chromosome alignment or hyperploid cells, which are hallmarks of centromere or kinetochore dysfunction. In addition, we found that Hmr-HA and Lhr-HA do not colocalize with centromeres either during interphase or mitotic division. However, all mutants displayed anaphase bridges and chromosome aberrations resulting from the breakage of these bridges, predominantly at the euchromatin–heterochromatin junction. The few dividing cells present in hybrid males showed fuzzy and irregularly condensed chromosomes with unresolved sister chromatids. Despite this defect in condensation, chromosomes in hybrids managed to align on the metaphase plate and undergo anaphase. We conclude that there is no evidence for a centromeric function of Hmr and Lhr within D. melanogaster nor for a centromere defect causing hybrid lethality. Instead, we find that Hmr and Lhr are required in D. melanogaster for detachment of sister chromatids during anaphase.

Six initially equivalent, multipotential Vulval Precursor Cells (VPCs) in Caenorhabditis elegans adopt distinct cell fates in a precise spatial pattern, with each fate associated with transcription of different target genes. The pattern is centered on a cell that adopts the "1°" fate through Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) activity, and produces a lateral signal composed of ligands that activate LIN-12/Notch in the two flanking VPCs to cause them to adopt "2°" fate. Here, we investigate orthologs of a transcription complex that acts in mammalian EGFR signaling—lin-1/Elk1, sur-2/Med23, and the Cdk8 Kinase module (CKM)—previously implicated in aspects of 1° fate in C. elegans and show they act in different combinations for different processes for 2° fate. When EGFR is inactive, the CKM, but not SUR-2, helps to set a threshold for LIN-12/Notch activity in all VPCs. When EGFR is active, all three factors act to resist LIN-12/Notch, as revealed by the reduced ability of ectopically-activated LIN-12/Notch to activate target gene reporters. We show that overcoming this resistance in the 1° VPC leads to repression of lateral signal gene reporters, suggesting that resistance to LIN-12/Notch helps ensure that P6.p becomes a robust source of the lateral signal. In addition, we show that sur-2/Med23 and lin-1/Elk1, and not the CKM, are required to promote endocytic downregulation of LIN-12-GFP in the 1° VPC. Finally, our analysis using cell fate reporters reveals that both EGFR and LIN-12/Notch signal transduction pathways are active in all VPCs in lin-1/Elk1 mutants, and that lin-1/Elk1 is important for integrating EGFR and lin-12/Notch signaling inputs in the VPCs so that the proper gene complement is transcribed.

Arabidopsis thaliana INNER NO OUTER (INO) is a YABBY protein that is essential for the initiation and development of the outer integument of ovules. Other YABBY proteins have been shown to be involved in both negative and positive regulation of expression of putative target genes. YABBY proteins have also been shown to interact with the corepressor LEUNIG (LUG) in several systems. In support of a repressive role for INO, we confirm that INO interacts with LUG and also find that INO directly interacts with SEUSS (SEU), a known corepressive partner of LUG. Further, we find that INO can directly interact with ADA2b/PROPORZ1 (PRZ1), a transcriptional coactivator that is known to interact with the histone acetyltransferase GENERAL CONTROL NONREPRESSIBLE PROTEIN 5 (GCN5, also known as HAG1). Mutations in LUG, SEU, and ADA2b/PRZ1 all lead to pleiotropic effects including a deficiency in the extension of the outer integument. Additive and synergistic effects of ada2b/prz1 and lug mutations on outer integument formation indicate that these two genes function independently to promote outer integument growth. The ino mutation is epistatic to both lug and ada2b/prz1 in the outer integument, and all three proteins are present in the nuclei of a common set of outer integument cells. This is consistent with a model where INO utilizes these coregulator proteins to activate and repress separate sets of target genes. Other Arabidopsis YABBY proteins were shown to also form complexes with ADA2b/PRZ1, and have been previously shown to interact with SEU and LUG. Thus, interaction with these corepressors and coactivator may represent a general mechanism to explain the positive and negative activities of YABBY proteins in transcriptional regulation. The LUG, SEU, and ADA2b/PRZ1 proteins would also separately be recruited to targets of other transcription factors, consistent with their roles as general coregulators, explaining the pleiotropic effects not associated with YABBY function.

Pyridoxine-dependent epilepsy (PDE) is a rare disease characterized by mutations in the lysine degradation gene ALDH7A1 leading to recurrent neonatal seizures, which are uniquely alleviated by high doses of pyridoxine or pyridoxal 5'-phosphate (vitamin B6 vitamers). Despite treatment, neurodevelopmental disabilities are still observed in most PDE patients underlining the need for adjunct therapies. Over 60 years after the initial description of PDE, we report the first animal model for this disease: an aldh7a1-null zebrafish (Danio rerio) displaying deficient lysine metabolism and spontaneous and recurrent seizures in the larval stage (10 days postfertilization). Epileptiform electrographic activity was observed uniquely in mutants as a series of population bursts in tectal recordings. Remarkably, as is the case in human PDE, the seizures show an almost immediate sensitivity to pyridoxine and pyridoxal 5'-phosphate, with a resulting extension of the life span. Lysine supplementation aggravates the phenotype, inducing earlier seizure onset and death. By using mass spectrometry techniques, we further explored the metabolic effect of aldh7a1 knockout. Impaired lysine degradation with accumulation of PDE biomarkers, B6 deficiency, and low -aminobutyric acid levels were observed in the aldh7a1–/– larvae, which may play a significant role in the seizure phenotype and PDE pathogenesis. This novel model provides valuable insights into PDE pathophysiology; further research may offer new opportunities for drug discovery to control seizure activity and improve neurodevelopmental outcomes for PDE.

Ecdysteroids, including the biologically active hormone 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E), play essential roles in controlling many developmental and physiological events in insects. Ecdysteroid biosynthesis is achieved by a series of specialized enzymes encoded by the Halloween genes. Recently, a new class of Halloween gene, noppera-bo (nobo), encoding a glutathione S-transferase (GST) in dipteran and lepidopteran species, has been identified and characterized. GSTs are well known to conjugate substrates with the reduced form of glutathione (GSH), a bioactive tripeptide composed of glutamate, cysteine, and glycine. We hypothesized that GSH itself is required for ecdysteroid biosynthesis. However, the role of GSH in steroid hormone biosynthesis has not been examined in any organisms. Here, we report phenotypic analysis of a complete loss-of-function mutant in the -glutamylcysteine synthetase catalytic subunit (Gclc) gene in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Gclc encodes the evolutionarily conserved catalytic component of the enzyme that conjugates glutamate and cysteine in the GSH biosynthesis pathway. Complete Gclc loss-of-function leads to drastic GSH deficiency in the larval body fluid. Gclc mutant animals show a larval-arrest phenotype. Ecdysteroid titer in Gclc mutant larvae decreases, and the larval-arrest phenotype is rescued by oral administration of 20E or cholesterol. Moreover, Gclc mutant animals exhibit abnormal lipid deposition in the prothoracic gland, a steroidogenic organ during larval development. All of these phenotypes are reminiscent to nobo loss-of-function animals. On the other hand, Gclc mutant larvae also exhibit a significant reduction in antioxidant capacity. Consistent with this phenotype, Gclc mutant larvae are more sensitive to oxidative stress response as compared to wild-type. Nevertheless, the ecdysteroid biosynthesis defect in Gclc mutant animals is not associated with loss of antioxidant function. Our data raise the unexpected hypothesis that a primary role of GSH in early D. melanogaster larval development is ecdysteroid biosynthesis, independent from the antioxidant role of GSH.

The Caenorhabditis elegans ventral nerve cord (VNC) consists of two asymmetric bundles of neurons and axons that are separated by the midline. How the axons are guided to stay on the correct sides of the midline remains poorly understood. Here we provide evidence that the conserved Wnt signaling pathway along with the Netrin and Robo pathways constitute a combinatorial code for midline guidance of PVP and PVQ axons that extend into the VNC. Combined loss of the Wnts CWN-1, CWN-2, and EGL-20 or loss of the Wnt receptor CAM-1 caused >70% of PVP and PVQ axons to inappropriately cross over from the left side to the right side. Loss of the Frizzled receptor LIN-17 or the planar cell polarity (PCP) protein VANG-1 also caused cross over defects that did not enhance those in the cam-1 mutant, indicating that the proteins function together in midline guidance. Strong cam-1 expression can be detected in the PVQs and the guidepost cell PVT that is located on the midline. However, only when cam-1 is expressed in PVT are the crossover defects of PVP and PVQ rescued, showing that CAM-1 functions nonautonomously in PVT to prevent axons from crossing the midline.

The evolutionary theories of mutation accumulation (MA) and disposable soma (DS) provide possible explanations for the existence of human aging. To better understand the relative importance of these theories, we devised a test to identify MA- and DS-consistent sites across the genome using familial DNA methylation data. Two key characteristics of DNA methylation allowed us to do so. First, DNA methylation exhibits distinct and widespread changes with age, with numerous age-differentially-methylated sites observed across the genome. Second, many sites show heritable DNA methylation patterns within families. We extended heritability predictions of MA and DS to DNA methylation, predicting that MA-consistent age-differentially-methylated sites will show increasing heritability with age, while DS-consistent sites will show the opposite. Variance components models were used to test for changing heritability of methylation with age at 48,601 age-differentially-methylated sites across the genome in 610 individuals from 176 families. Of these, 102 sites showed significant MA-consistent increases in heritability with age, while 2266 showed significant DS-consistent decreases in heritability. These results suggest that both MA and DS play a role in explaining aging and aging-related changes, and that while the majority of DNA methylation changes observed in aging are consistent with epigenetic drift, targeted changes exist and may mediate effects of aging-related genes.

Different factors can influence the evolution of the mutation rate of a species: costs associated with DNA replication fidelity, indirect selection caused by the mutations produced (that should generally favor lower mutation rates, given that most mutations affecting fitness are deleterious), and genetic drift, which may render selection acting on weak mutators inefficient. In this paper, we use a two-locus model to compute the strength of indirect selection acting on a modifier locus that affects the mutation rate toward a deleterious allele at a second, linked, locus, in a population undergoing partial selfing or partial clonality. The results show that uniparental reproduction increases the effect of indirect selection for lower mutation rates. Extrapolating to the case of a whole genome with many deleterious alleles, and introducing a direct cost to DNA replication fidelity, the results can be used to compute the evolutionarily stable mutation rate, U. In the absence of mutational bias toward higher U, the analytical prediction fits well with individual-based, multilocus simulation results. When such a bias is added into the simulations, however, genetic drift may lead to the maintenance of higher mutation rates, and this effect may be amplified in highly selfing or highly clonal populations due to their reduced effective population size.

Gene conversion is a ubiquitous phenomenon that leads to the exchange of genetic information between homologous DNA regions and maintains coevolving multi-gene families in most prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms. In this paper, we study its implications for the evolution of a single functional gene with a silenced duplicate, using two different models of evolution on rugged fitness landscapes. Our analytical and numerical results show that, by helping to circumvent valleys of low fitness, gene conversion with a passive duplicate gene can cause a significant speedup of adaptation, which depends nontrivially on the frequency of gene conversion and the structure of the landscape. We find that stochastic effects due to finite population sizes further increase the likelihood of exploiting this evolutionary pathway. A universal feature appearing in both deterministic and stochastic analysis of our models is the existence of an optimal gene conversion rate, which maximizes the speed of adaptation. Our results reveal the potential for duplicate genes to act as a "scratch paper" that frees evolution from being limited to strictly beneficial mutations in strongly selective environments.

Geographically separated populations can convergently adapt to the same selection pressure. Convergent evolution at the level of a gene may arise via three distinct modes. The selected alleles can (1) have multiple independent mutational origins, (2) be shared due to shared ancestral standing variation, or (3) spread throughout subpopulations via gene flow. We present a model-based, statistical approach that utilizes genomic data to detect cases of convergent adaptation at the genetic level, identify the loci involved and distinguish among these modes. To understand the impact of convergent positive selection on neutral diversity at linked loci, we make use of the fact that hitchhiking can be modeled as an increase in the variance in neutral allele frequencies around a selected site within a population. We build on coalescent theory to show how shared hitchhiking events between subpopulations act to increase covariance in allele frequencies between subpopulations at loci near the selected site, and extend this theory under different models of migration and selection on the same standing variation. We incorporate this hitchhiking effect into a multivariate normal model of allele frequencies that also accounts for population structure. Based on this theory, we present a composite-likelihood-based approach that utilizes genomic data to identify loci involved in convergence, and distinguishes among alternate modes of convergent adaptation. We illustrate our method on genome-wide polymorphism data from two distinct cases of convergent adaptation. First, we investigate the adaptation for copper toxicity tolerance in two populations of the common yellow monkey flower, Mimulus guttatus. We show that selection has occurred on an allele that has been standing in these populations prior to the onset of copper mining in this region. Lastly, we apply our method to data from four populations of the killifish, Fundulus heteroclitus, that show very rapid convergent adaptation for tolerance to industrial pollutants. Here, we identify a single locus at which both independent mutation events and selection on an allele shared via gene flow, either slightly before or during selection, play a role in adaptation across the species’ range.

The evolution of heteromorphic sex chromosomes has fascinated biologists, inspiring theoretical models, experimental studies, and studies of genome structure. This work has produced a clear model, in which heteromorphic sex chromosomes result from repeated fixations of inversions (or other recombination suppression mechanisms) that tether sexually antagonistic alleles to sex-determining regions, followed by the degeneration of these regions induced by the lack of sex chromosome recombination in the heterogametic sex. However, current models do not predict if inversions are expected to preferentially accumulate on one sex-chromosome or another, and do not address if inversions can accumulate even when they cause difficulties in pairing between heteromorphic chromosomes in the heterogametic sex increasing aneuploidy or meiotic arrest. To address these questions, we developed a population genetic model in which the sex chromosome aneuploidy rate is elevated when males carry an inversion on either the X or Y chromosome. We show that inversions fix more easily when male-beneficial alleles are dominant, and that inversions on the Y chromosome fix with lower selection coefficients than comparable X chromosome inversions. We further show that sex-chromosome inversions can often invade and fix despite causing a substantial increase in the risk of aneuploidy. As sexual antagonism can lead to the fixation of inversions that increase sex chromosomes aneuploidy (which underlies genetic diseases including Klinefelter and Turner syndrome in humans) selection could subsequently favor diverse mechanisms to reduce aneuploidy—including alternative meiotic mechanisms, translocations to, and fusions with, the sex chromosomes, and sex chromosome turnover.

To date, research on the evolution of sex chromosomes has focused on sexually antagonistic selection among diploids, which has been shown to be a potent driver of the strata and reduced recombination that characterize many sex chromosomes. However, significant selection can also occur on haploid genotypes during less conspicuous life cycle stages, e.g., competition among sperm/pollen or meiotic drive during gamete/spore production. These haploid selective processes are typically sex-specific, e.g., gametic/gametophytic competition typically occurs among sperm/pollen, and meiotic drive typically occurs during either spermatogenesis or oogenesis. We use models to investigate whether sex-specific selection on haploids could drive the evolution of recombination suppression on the sex chromosomes, as has been demonstrated for sex-specific selection among diploids. A potential complication is that zygotic sex-ratios become biased when haploid selected loci become linked to the sex-determining region because the zygotic sex ratio is determined by the relative number and fitness of X- vs. Y-bearing sperm. Despite causing biased zygotic sex-ratios, we find that a period of sex-specific haploid selection generally favors recombination suppression on the sex chromosomes. Suppressed recombination is favored because it allows associations to build up between haploid-beneficial alleles and the sex that experiences haploid selection most often (e.g., pollen beneficial alleles become strongly associated with the male determining region, Y or Z). Haploid selected loci can favor recombination suppression even in the absence of selective differences between male and female diploids. Overall, we expand our view of the sex-specific life cycle stages that can drive sex chromosome evolution to include gametic competition and meiotic drive. Based on our models, sex chromosomes should become enriched for genes that experience haploid selection, as is expected for genes that experience sexually antagonistic selection. Thus, we generate a number of predictions that can be evaluated in emerging sex chromosome systems.

A crucial step in plant breeding is the selection and combination of parents to form new crosses. Genome-based prediction guides the selection of high-performing parental lines in many crop breeding programs which ensures a high mean performance of progeny. To warrant maximum selection progress, a new cross should also provide a large progeny variance. The usefulness concept as measure of the gain that can be obtained from a specific cross accounts for variation in progeny variance. Here, it is shown that genetic gain can be considerably increased when crosses are selected based on their genomic usefulness criterion compared to selection based on mean genomic estimated breeding values. An efficient and improved method to predict the genetic variance of a cross based on Markov chain Monte Carlo samples of marker effects from a whole-genome regression model is suggested. In simulations representing selection procedures in crop breeding programs, the performance of this novel approach is compared with existing methods, like selection based on mean genomic estimated breeding values and optimal haploid values. In all cases, higher genetic gain was obtained compared with previously suggested methods. When 1% of progenies per cross were selected, the genetic gain based on the estimated usefulness criterion increased by 0.14 genetic standard deviation compared to a selection based on mean genomic estimated breeding values. Analytical derivations of the progeny genotypic variance-covariance matrix based on parental genotypes and genetic map information make simulations of progeny dispensable, and allow fast implementation in large-scale breeding programs.

Understanding the genetic basis of complex traits remains a major challenge in biology. Polygenicity, phenotypic plasticity, and epistasis contribute to phenotypic variance in ways that are rarely clear. This uncertainty can be problematic for estimating heritability, for predicting individual phenotypes from genomic data, and for parameterizing models of phenotypic evolution. Here, we report an advanced recombinant inbred line (RIL) quantitative trait locus mapping panel for the hermaphroditic nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, the C. elegans multiparental experimental evolution (CeMEE) panel. The CeMEE panel, comprising 507 RILs at present, was created by hybridization of 16 wild isolates, experimental evolution for 140–190 generations, and inbreeding by selfing for 13–16 generations. The panel contains 22% of single-nucleotide polymorphisms known to segregate in natural populations, and complements existing C. elegans mapping resources by providing fine resolution and high nucleotide diversity across > 95% of the genome. We apply it to study the genetic basis of two fitness components, fertility and hermaphrodite body size at time of reproduction, with high broad-sense heritability in the CeMEE. While simulations show that we should detect common alleles with additive effects as small as 5%, at gene-level resolution, the genetic architectures of these traits do not feature such alleles. We instead find that a significant fraction of trait variance, approaching 40% for fertility, can be explained by sign epistasis with main effects below the detection limit. In congruence, phenotype prediction from genomic similarity, while generally poor ($${r}^{2} < 10\hbox{ \% }$$), requires modeling epistasis for optimal accuracy, with most variance attributed to the rapidly evolving chromosome arms.

Low levels of the essential amino acids lysine (Lys) and methionine (Met) in a maize-based diet are a major cost to feed and food. Lys deficiency is due to the abundance of Lys-poor proteins in maize kernels. Although a maize mutant, opaque-2 (o2), has sufficient levels of Lys, its soft kernel renders it unfit for storage and transportation. Breeders overcame this problem by selecting quantitative trait loci (QTL) restoring kernel hardness in the presence of o2, a variety called Quality Protein Maize (QPM). Although at least one QTL acts by enhancing the expression of the -zein proteins, we could surprisingly achieve rebalancing of the Lys content and a vitreous kernel phenotype by targeting suppression of -zeins without the o2 mutant. Reduced levels of -zeins were achieved with RNA interference (RNAi). Another transgenic event, PE5 expresses the Escherichia coli enzyme 3'-phosphoadenosine-5'-phosphosulfate reductase involved in sulfate assimilation, specifically in leaves. The stacked transgenic events produce a vitreous endosperm, which has higher Lys level than the classical opaque W64Ao2 variant. Moreover, due to the increased sulfate reduction in the leaf, Met level is elevated in the seed. Such a combination of transgenes produces hybrid seeds superior to classical QPMs that would neither require a costly feed mix nor synthetic Met supplementation, potentially creating a novel and cost-effective means for improving maize nutritional quality.

Over the past decade, genetic studies have recognized hundreds of polymorphic DNA loci called response QTLs (reQTLs) as potential contributors to interindividual variation in transcriptional responses to stimulations. Such reQTLs commonly affect the transduction of signals along the regulatory network that controls gene transcription. Identifying the pathways through which reQTLs perturb the underlying network has been a major challenge. Here, we present GEVIN ("Genome-wide Embedding of Variation In Networks"), a methodology that simultaneously identifies a reQTL and the particular pathway in which the reQTL affects downstream signal transduction along the network. Using synthetic data, we show that this algorithm outperforms existing pathway identification and reQTL identification methods. We applied GEVIN to the analysis of murine and human dendritic cells in response to pathogenic components. These analyses revealed significant reQTLs together with their perturbed Toll-like receptor signaling pathways. GEVIN thus offers a powerful framework that renders a comprehensive picture of disease-related DNA loci and their molecular functions within regulatory networks.



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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A hereditary unit that occupies a certain position on a chromosome; a unit that has one or more specific effects on the phenotype, and can mutate to various allelic forms.