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Concept: Genetics


Background Both genetic and lifestyle factors contribute to individual-level risk of coronary artery disease. The extent to which increased genetic risk can be offset by a healthy lifestyle is unknown. Methods Using a polygenic score of DNA sequence polymorphisms, we quantified genetic risk for coronary artery disease in three prospective cohorts - 7814 participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, 21,222 in the Women’s Genome Health Study (WGHS), and 22,389 in the Malmö Diet and Cancer Study (MDCS) - and in 4260 participants in the cross-sectional BioImage Study for whom genotype and covariate data were available. We also determined adherence to a healthy lifestyle among the participants using a scoring system consisting of four factors: no current smoking, no obesity, regular physical activity, and a healthy diet. Results The relative risk of incident coronary events was 91% higher among participants at high genetic risk (top quintile of polygenic scores) than among those at low genetic risk (bottom quintile of polygenic scores) (hazard ratio, 1.91; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.75 to 2.09). A favorable lifestyle (defined as at least three of the four healthy lifestyle factors) was associated with a substantially lower risk of coronary events than an unfavorable lifestyle (defined as no or only one healthy lifestyle factor), regardless of the genetic risk category. Among participants at high genetic risk, a favorable lifestyle was associated with a 46% lower relative risk of coronary events than an unfavorable lifestyle (hazard ratio, 0.54; 95% CI, 0.47 to 0.63). This finding corresponded to a reduction in the standardized 10-year incidence of coronary events from 10.7% for an unfavorable lifestyle to 5.1% for a favorable lifestyle in ARIC, from 4.6% to 2.0% in WGHS, and from 8.2% to 5.3% in MDCS. In the BioImage Study, a favorable lifestyle was associated with significantly less coronary-artery calcification within each genetic risk category. Conclusions Across four studies involving 55,685 participants, genetic and lifestyle factors were independently associated with susceptibility to coronary artery disease. Among participants at high genetic risk, a favorable lifestyle was associated with a nearly 50% lower relative risk of coronary artery disease than was an unfavorable lifestyle. (Funded by the National Institutes of Health and others.).

Concepts: Genetics, Epidemiology, Nutrition, Atherosclerosis, Angina pectoris, Coronary artery disease, Atheroma, Artery


The objective of this study has been to confirm the sex and the affinity of an individual buried in a well-furnished warrior grave (Bj 581) in the Viking Age town of Birka, Sweden. Previously, based on the material and historical records, the male sex has been associated with the gender of the warrior and such was the case with Bj 581. An earlier osteological classification of the individual as female was considered controversial in a historical and archaeological context. A genomic confirmation of the biological sex of the individual was considered necessary to solve the issue.

Concepts: Genetics, Male, Female, Sexual dimorphism, Gender, Sex, Gamete, Hermaphrodite


Over a decade ago, the Atacama humanoid skeleton (Ata) was discovered in the Atacama region of Chile. The Ata specimen carried a strange phenotype-6-in stature, fewer than expected ribs, elongated cranium, and accelerated bone age-leading to speculation that this was a preserved nonhuman primate, human fetus harboring genetic mutations, or even an extraterrestrial. We previously reported that it was human by DNA analysis with an estimated bone age of about 6-8 yr at the time of demise. To determine the possible genetic drivers of the observed morphology, DNA from the specimen was subjected to whole-genome sequencing using the Illumina HiSeq platform with an average 11.5× coverage of 101-bp, paired-end reads. In total, 3,356,569 single nucleotide variations (SNVs) were found as compared to the human reference genome, 518,365 insertions and deletions (indels), and 1047 structural variations (SVs) were detected. Here, we present the detailed whole-genome analysis showing that Ata is a female of human origin, likely of Chilean descent, and its genome harbors mutations in genes (COL1A1,COL2A1,KMT2D,FLNB,ATR,TRIP11,PCNT) previously linked with diseases of small stature, rib anomalies, cranial malformations, premature joint fusion, and osteochondrodysplasia (also known as skeletal dysplasia). Together, these findings provide a molecular characterization of Ata’s peculiar phenotype, which likely results from multiple known and novel putative gene mutations affecting bone development and ossification.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Evolution, Molecular biology, Human genome, Chile


Genome editing tools such as the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-associated system (Cas) have been widely used to modify genes in model systems including animal zygotes and human cells, and hold tremendous promise for both basic research and clinical applications. To date, a serious knowledge gap remains in our understanding of DNA repair mechanisms in human early embryos, and in the efficiency and potential off-target effects of using technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 in human pre-implantation embryos. In this report, we used tripronuclear (3PN) zygotes to further investigate CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing in human cells. We found that CRISPR/Cas9 could effectively cleave the endogenous β-globin gene (HBB). However, the efficiency of homologous recombination directed repair (HDR) of HBB was low and the edited embryos were mosaic. Off-target cleavage was also apparent in these 3PN zygotes as revealed by the T7E1 assay and whole-exome sequencing. Furthermore, the endogenous delta-globin gene (HBD), which is homologous to HBB, competed with exogenous donor oligos to act as the repair template, leading to untoward mutations. Our data also indicated that repair of the HBB locus in these embryos occurred preferentially through the non-crossover HDR pathway. Taken together, our work highlights the pressing need to further improve the fidelity and specificity of the CRISPR/Cas9 platform, a prerequisite for any clinical applications of CRSIPR/Cas9-mediated editing.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Evolution, Chromosome, DNA repair


This study examines genetic diversity among 102 registered English Bulldogs used for breeding based on maternal and paternal haplotypes, allele frequencies in 33 highly polymorphic short tandem repeat (STR) loci on 25 chromosomes, STR-linked dog leukocyte antigen (DLA) class I and II haplotypes, and the number and size of genome-wide runs of homozygosity (ROH) determined from high density SNP arrays. The objective was to assess whether the breed retains enough genetic diversity to correct the genotypic and phenotypic abnormalities associated with poor health, to allow for the elimination of deleterious recessive mutations, or to make further phenotypic changes in body structure or coat. An additional 37 English bulldogs presented to the UC Davis Veterinary Clinical Services for health problems were also genetically compared with the 102 registered dogs based on the perception that sickly English bulldogs are products of commercial breeders or puppy-mills and genetically different and inferior.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genotype, Allele, Evolution, Genetic genealogy, Bulldog


Sequencing of candidate genes for obesity in Labrador retriever dogs identified a 14 bp deletion in pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) with an allele frequency of 12%. The deletion disrupts the β-MSH and β-endorphin coding sequences and is associated with body weight (per allele effect of 0.33 SD), adiposity, and greater food motivation. Among other dog breeds, the deletion was only found in the closely related flat-coat retriever (FCR), where it is similarly associated with body weight and food motivation. The mutation is significantly more common in Labrador retrievers selected to become assistance dogs than pets. In conclusion, the deletion in POMC is a significant modifier of weight and appetite in Labrador retrievers and FCRs and may influence other behavioral traits.

Concepts: Genetics, Labrador Retriever, Dog, Dog breed, Retriever, Golden Retriever, Labradoodle, Guide dog


Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages world-wide and one of the primary sources of caffeine intake. Given its important health and economic impact, the underlying genetics of its consumption has been widely studied. Despite these efforts, much has still to be uncovered. In particular, the use of non-additive genetic models may uncover new information about the genetic variants driving coffee consumption. We have conducted a genome-wide association study in two Italian populations using additive, recessive and dominant models for analysis. This has uncovered a significant association in the PDSS2 gene under the recessive model that has been replicated in an independent cohort from the Netherlands (ERF). The identified gene has been shown to negatively regulate the expression of the caffeine metabolism genes and can thus be linked to coffee consumption. Further bioinformatics analysis of eQTL and histone marks from Roadmap data has evidenced a possible role of the identified SNPs in regulating PDSS2 gene expression through enhancers present in its intron. Our results highlight a novel gene which regulates coffee consumption by regulating the expression of the genes linked to caffeine metabolism. Further studies will be needed to clarify the biological mechanism which links PDSS2 and coffee consumption.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Bacteria, Transcription, Biology, Organism


Little is known about the amount and infectiousness of influenza virus shed into exhaled breath. This contributes to uncertainty about the importance of airborne influenza transmission. We screened 355 symptomatic volunteers with acute respiratory illness and report 142 cases with confirmed influenza infection who provided 218 paired nasopharyngeal (NP) and 30-minute breath samples (coarse >5-µm and fine ≤5-µm fractions) on days 1-3 after symptom onset. We assessed viral RNA copy number for all samples and cultured NP swabs and fine aerosols. We recovered infectious virus from 52 (39%) of the fine aerosols and 150 (89%) of the NP swabs with valid cultures. The geometric mean RNA copy numbers were 3.8 × 104/30-minutes fine-, 1.2 × 104/30-minutes coarse-aerosol sample, and 8.2 × 108 per NP swab. Fine- and coarse-aerosol viral RNA were positively associated with body mass index and number of coughs and negatively associated with increasing days since symptom onset in adjusted models. Fine-aerosol viral RNA was also positively associated with having influenza vaccination for both the current and prior season. NP swab viral RNA was positively associated with upper respiratory symptoms and negatively associated with age but was not significantly associated with fine- or coarse-aerosol viral RNA or their predictors. Sneezing was rare, and sneezing and coughing were not necessary for infectious aerosol generation. Our observations suggest that influenza infection in the upper and lower airways are compartmentalized and independent.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Infectious disease, Copy number variation, Virus, Influenza, Body mass index, Transmission and infection of H5N1


We review the salient evidence consistent with or predicted by the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe (H- W) thesis of Cometary (Cosmic) Biology. Much of this physical and biological evidence is multifactorial. One particular focus are the recent studies which date the emergence of the complex retroviruses of vertebrate lines at or just before the Cambrian Explosion of ∼500 Ma. Such viruses are known to be plausibly associated with major evolutionary genomic processes. We believe this coincidence is not fortuitous but is consistent with a key prediction of H-W theory whereby major extinction-diversification evolutionary boundaries coincide with virus-bearing cometary-bolide bombardment events. A second focus is the remarkable evolution of intelligent complexity (Cephalopods) culminating in the emergence of the Octopus. A third focus concerns the micro-organism fossil evidence contained within meteorites as well as the detection in the upper atmosphere of apparent incoming life-bearing particles from space. In our view the totality of the multifactorial data and critical analyses assembled by Fred Hoyle, Chandra Wickramasinghe and their many colleagues since the 1960s leads to a very plausible conclusion - life may have been seeded here on Earth by life-bearing comets as soon as conditions on Earth allowed it to flourish (about or just before 4.1 Billion years ago); and living organisms such as space-resistant and space-hardy bacteria, viruses, more complex eukaryotic cells, fertilised ova and seeds have been continuously delivered ever since to Earth so being one important driver of further terrestrial evolution which has resulted in considerable genetic diversity and which has led to the emergence of mankind.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Evolution, Organism, Species, Paleontology


Agrobacterium rhizogenes and Agrobacterium tumefaciens are plant pathogenic bacteria capable of transferring DNA fragments [transfer DNA (T-DNA)] bearing functional genes into the host plant genome. This naturally occurring mechanism has been adapted by plant biotechnologists to develop genetically modified crops that today are grown on more than 10% of the world’s arable land, although their use can result in considerable controversy. While assembling small interfering RNAs, or siRNAs, of sweet potato plants for metagenomic analysis, sequences homologous to T-DNA sequences from Agrobacterium spp. were discovered. Simple and quantitative PCR, Southern blotting, genome walking, and bacterial artificial chromosome library screening and sequencing unambiguously demonstrated that two different T-DNA regions (IbT-DNA1 and IbT-DNA2) are present in the cultivated sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas [L.] Lam.) genome and that these foreign genes are expressed at detectable levels in different tissues of the sweet potato plant. IbT-DNA1 was found to contain four open reading frames (ORFs) homologous to the tryptophan-2-monooxygenase (iaaM), indole-3-acetamide hydrolase (iaaH), C-protein (C-prot), and agrocinopine synthase (Acs) genes of Agrobacterium spp. IbT-DNA1 was detected in all 291 cultigens examined, but not in close wild relatives. IbT-DNA2 contained at least five ORFs with significant homology to the ORF14, ORF17n, rooting locus (Rol)B/RolC, ORF13, and ORF18/ORF17n genes of A. rhizogenes. IbT-DNA2 was detected in 45 of 217 genotypes that included both cultivated and wild species. Our finding, that sweet potato is naturally transgenic while being a widely and traditionally consumed food crop, could affect the current consumer distrust of the safety of transgenic food crops.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Agriculture, Evolution, Molecular biology, Horizontal gene transfer