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Concept: Genetic recombination


Repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) by homologous recombination requires resection of 5'-termini to generate 3'-single-strand DNA tails. Key components of this reaction are exonuclease 1 and the bifunctional endo/exonuclease, Mre11 (refs 2-4). Mre11 endonuclease activity is critical when DSB termini are blocked by bound protein–such as by the DNA end-joining complex, topoisomerases or the meiotic transesterase Spo11 (refs 7-13)–but a specific function for the Mre11 3'-5' exonuclease activity has remained elusive. Here we use Saccharomyces cerevisiae to reveal a role for the Mre11 exonuclease during the resection of Spo11-linked 5'-DNA termini in vivo. We show that the residual resection observed in Exo1-mutant cells is dependent on Mre11, and that both exonuclease activities are required for efficient DSB repair. Previous work has indicated that resection traverses unidirectionally. Using a combination of physical assays for 5'-end processing, our results indicate an alternative mechanism involving bidirectional resection. First, Mre11 nicks the strand to be resected up to 300 nucleotides from the 5'-terminus of the DSB–much further away than previously assumed. Second, this nick enables resection in a bidirectional manner, using Exo1 in the 5'-3' direction away from the DSB, and Mre11 in the 3'-5' direction towards the DSB end. Mre11 exonuclease activity also confers resistance to DNA damage in cycling cells, suggesting that Mre11-catalysed resection may be a general feature of various DNA repair pathways.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Adenosine triphosphate, DNA repair, Homologous recombination, BRCA1, Genetic recombination


Site-specific recombinases (SSRs) can perform DNA rearrangements, including deletions, inversions and translocations when their naive target sequences are placed strategically into the genome of an organism. Hence, in order to employ SSRs in heterologous hosts, their target sites have to be introduced into the genome of an organism before the enzyme can be practically employed. Engineered SSRs hold great promise for biotechnology and advanced biomedical applications, as they promise to extend the usefulness of SSRs to allow efficient and specific recombination of pre-existing, natural genomic sequences. However, the generation of enzymes with desired properties remains challenging. Here, we use substrate-linked directed evolution in combination with molecular modeling to rationally engineer an efficient and specific recombinase (sTre) that readily and specifically recombines a sequence present in the HIV-1 genome. We elucidate the role of key residues implicated in the molecular recognition mechanism and we present a rationale for sTre’s enhanced specificity. Combining evolutionary and rational approaches should help in accelerating the generation of enzymes with desired properties for use in biotechnology and biomedicine.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Molecular biology, Biology, Yeast, Genetic recombination


Lactococcus lactis is a Gram-positive (endotoxin-free) food-grade bacteria exploited as alternative to Escherichia coli for recombinant protein production. We have explored here for the first time the ability of this platform as producer of complex, self-assembling protein materials.

Concepts: DNA, Bacteria, Gut flora, Recombinant DNA, Escherichia coli, Biotechnology, Proteobacteria, Genetic recombination


DNA molecules are continuously released through decomposition of organic matter and are ubiquitous in most environments. Such DNA becomes fragmented and damaged (often <100 bp) and may persist in the environment for more than half a million years. Fragmented DNA is recognized as nutrient source for microbes, but not as potential substrate for bacterial evolution. Here, we show that fragmented DNA molecules (≥20 bp) that additionally may contain abasic sites, cross-links, or miscoding lesions are acquired by the environmental bacterium Acinetobacter baylyi through natural transformation. With uptake of DNA from a 43,000-y-old woolly mammoth bone, we further demonstrate that such natural transformation events include ancient DNA molecules. We find that the DNA recombination is RecA recombinase independent and is directly linked to DNA replication. We show that the adjacent nucleotide variations generated by uptake of short DNA fragments escape mismatch repair. Moreover, double-nucleotide polymorphisms appear more common among genomes of transformable than nontransformable bacteria. Our findings reveal that short and damaged, including truly ancient, DNA molecules, which are present in large quantities in the environment, can be acquired by bacteria through natural transformation. Our findings open for the possibility that natural genetic exchange can occur with DNA up to several hundreds of thousands years old.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, DNA repair, Escherichia coli, Natural environment, Genetic recombination


DNA interstrand cross-links (ICLs) block replication fork progression by inhibiting DNA strand separation. Repair of ICLs requires sequential incisions, translesion DNA synthesis, and homologous recombination, but the full set of factors involved in these transactions remains unknown. We devised a technique called chromatin mass spectrometry (CHROMASS) to study protein recruitment dynamics during perturbed DNA replication in Xenopus egg extracts. Using CHROMASS, we systematically monitored protein assembly and disassembly on ICL-containing chromatin. Among numerous prospective DNA repair factors, we identified SLF1 and SLF2, which form a complex with RAD18 and together define a pathway that suppresses genome instability by recruiting the SMC5/6 cohesion complex to DNA lesions. Our study provides a global analysis of an entire DNA repair pathway and reveals the mechanism of SMC5/6 relocalization to damaged DNA in vertebrate cells.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Cell nucleus, DNA repair, Homologous recombination, DNA replication, Genetic recombination


Genome-wide analysis of thymic lymphomas from Tp53(-/-) mice with wild-type or C-terminally truncated Rag2 revealed numerous off-target, RAG-mediated DNA rearrangements. A significantly higher fraction of these errors mutated known and suspected oncogenes/tumor suppressor genes than did sporadic rearrangements (p < 0.0001). This tractable mouse model recapitulates recent findings in human pre-B ALL and allows comparison of wild-type and mutant RAG2. Recurrent, RAG-mediated deletions affected Notch1, Pten, Ikzf1, Jak1, Phlda1, Trat1, and Agpat9. Rag2 truncation substantially increased the frequency of off-target V(D)J recombination. The data suggest that interactions between Rag2 and a specific chromatin modification, H3K4me3, support V(D)J recombination fidelity. Oncogenic effects of off-target rearrangements created by this highly regulated recombinase may need to be considered in design of site-specific nucleases engineered for genome modification.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Genome, DNA repair, Mouse, Genetic recombination


Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated (Cas) systems in bacteria and archaea use RNA-guided nuclease activity to provide adaptive immunity against invading foreign nucleic acids. Here, we report the use of type II bacterial CRISPR-Cas system in Saccharomyces cerevisiae for genome engineering. The CRISPR-Cas components, Cas9 gene and a designer genome targeting CRISPR guide RNA (gRNA), show robust and specific RNA-guided endonuclease activity at targeted endogenous genomic loci in yeast. Using constitutive Cas9 expression and a transient gRNA cassette, we show that targeted double-strand breaks can increase homologous recombination rates of single- and double-stranded oligonucleotide donors by 5-fold and 130-fold, respectively. In addition, co-transformation of a gRNA plasmid and a donor DNA in cells constitutively expressing Cas9 resulted in near 100% donor DNA recombination frequency. Our approach provides foundations for a simple and powerful genome engineering tool for site-specific mutagenesis and allelic replacement in yeast.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Cell nucleus, Bacteria, Genome, RNA, Genetic recombination


Many decades of theory have demonstrated that, in non-recombining systems, slightly deleterious mutations accumulate non-reversibly, potentially driving the extinction of many asexual species. Non-recombining chromosomes in sexual organisms are thought to have degenerated in a similar fashion; however, it is not clear the extent to which damaging mutations accumulate along chromosomes with highly variable rates of crossing over. Using high-coverage sequencing data from over 1,400 individuals in the 1000 Genomes and CARTaGENE projects, we show that recombination rate modulates the distribution of putatively deleterious variants across the entire human genome. Exons in regions of low recombination are significantly enriched for deleterious and disease-associated variants, a signature varying in strength across worldwide human populations with different demographic histories. Regions with low recombination rates are enriched for highly conserved genes with essential cellular functions and show an excess of mutations with demonstrated effects on health, a phenomenon likely affecting disease susceptibility in humans.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Human, Human genome, Genome, Chromosome, Genetic recombination


Among the fundamental evolutionary forces, recombination arguably has the largest impact on the practical work of plant breeders. Varying over 1,000-fold across the maize genome, the local meiotic recombination rate limits the resolving power of quantitative trait mapping and the precision of favorable allele introgression. The consequences of low recombination also theoretically extend to the species-wide scale by decreasing the power of selection relative to genetic drift, and thereby hindering the purging of deleterious mutations. In this study, we used genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS) to identify 136,000 recombination breakpoints at high resolution within US and Chinese maize nested association mapping populations. We find that the pattern of cross-overs is highly predictable on the broad scale, following the distribution of gene density and CpG methylation. Several large inversions also suppress recombination in distinct regions of several families. We also identify recombination hotspots ranging in size from 1 kb to 30 kb. We find these hotspots to be historically stable and, compared with similar regions with low recombination, to have strongly differentiated patterns of DNA methylation and GC content. We also provide evidence for the historical action of GC-biased gene conversion in recombination hotspots. Finally, using genomic evolutionary rate profiling (GERP) to identify putative deleterious polymorphisms, we find evidence for reduced genetic load in hotspot regions, a phenomenon that may have considerable practical importance for breeding programs worldwide.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Evolution, Genome, Population genetics, Genetic recombination


Meiotic recombination creates genotypic diversity within species. Recombination rates vary substantially across taxa, and the distribution of crossovers can differ significantly among populations and between sexes. Crossover locations within species have been found to vary by chromosome and by position within chromosomes, where most crossover events occur in small regions known as recombination hotspots. However, several species appear to lack hotspots despite significant crossover heterogeneity. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans was previously found to have the least fine-scale variation in crossover distribution among organisms studied to date. It is unclear whether this pattern extends to the X chromosome given its unique compaction through the pachytene stage of meiotic prophase in hermaphrodites. We generated 798 recombinant nested near-isogenic lines (NILs) with crossovers in a 1.41 Mb region on the left arm of the X chromosome to determine if its recombination landscape is similar to that of the autosomes. We find that the fine-scale variation in crossover rate is lower than that of other model species, and is inconsistent with hotspots. The relationship of genomic features to crossover rate is dependent on scale, with GC content, histone modifications, and nucleosome occupancy being negatively associated with crossovers. We also find that the abundances of 4- to 6-bp DNA motifs significantly explain crossover density. These results are consistent with recombination occurring at unevenly distributed sites of open chromatin.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Histone, Biology, Chromosome, Caenorhabditis elegans, Model organism, Genetic recombination