Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Genetics


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


Sperm are highly differentiated and the activities that reprogram them for embryonic development during fertilization have historically been considered unique to the oocyte. We here challenge this view and demonstrate that mouse embryos in the mitotic cell cycle can also directly reprogram sperm for full-term development. Developmentally incompetent haploid embryos (parthenogenotes) injected with sperm developed to produce healthy offspring at up to 24% of control rates, depending when in the embryonic cell cycle injection took place. This implies that most of the first embryonic cell cycle can be bypassed in sperm genome reprogramming for full development. Remodelling of histones and genomic 5'-methylcytosine and 5'-hydroxymethylcytosine following embryo injection were distinct from remodelling in fertilization and the resulting 2-cell embryos consistently possessed abnormal transcriptomes. These studies demonstrate plasticity in the reprogramming of terminally differentiated sperm nuclei and suggest that different epigenetic pathways or kinetics can establish totipotency.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Cell nucleus, Embryo, Developmental biology, Embryology, Meiosis, Zygote


The CRISPR-associated endonuclease Cas9 binds to a guide RNA and cleaves double-stranded DNA with a sequence complementary to the RNA guide. The Cas9-RNA system has been harnessed for numerous applications, such as genome editing. Here we use high-speed atomic force microscopy (HS-AFM) to visualize the real-space and real-time dynamics of CRISPR-Cas9 in action. HS-AFM movies indicate that, whereas apo-Cas9 adopts unexpected flexible conformations, Cas9-RNA forms a stable bilobed structure and interrogates target sites on the DNA by three-dimensional diffusion. These movies also provide real-time visualization of the Cas9-mediated DNA cleavage process. Notably, the Cas9 HNH nuclease domain fluctuates upon DNA binding, and subsequently adopts an active conformation, where the HNH active site is docked at the cleavage site in the target DNA. Collectively, our HS-AFM data extend our understanding of the action mechanism of CRISPR-Cas9.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Biology, Virus, Genome, RNA, Endonuclease


How does human brain structure mature during adolescence? We used MRI to measure cortical thickness and intracortical myelination in 297 population volunteers aged 14-24 y old. We found and replicated that association cortical areas were thicker and less myelinated than primary cortical areas at 14 y. However, association cortex had faster rates of shrinkage and myelination over the course of adolescence. Age-related increases in cortical myelination were maximized approximately at the internal layer of projection neurons. Adolescent cortical myelination and shrinkage were coupled and specifically associated with a dorsoventrally patterned gene expression profile enriched for synaptic, oligodendroglial- and schizophrenia-related genes. Topologically efficient and biologically expensive hubs of the brain anatomical network had greater rates of shrinkage/myelination and were associated with overexpression of the same transcriptional profile as cortical consolidation. We conclude that normative human brain maturation involves a genetically patterned process of consolidating anatomical network hubs. We argue that developmental variation of this consolidation process may be relevant both to normal cognitive and behavioral changes and the high incidence of schizophrenia during human brain adolescence.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Brain, Human brain, Cerebral cortex


Plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) has been shown to be a key component of the senescence-related secretome and a direct mediator of cellular senescence. In murine models of accelerated aging, genetic deficiency and targeted inhibition of PAI-1 protect against aging-like pathology and prolong life span. However, the role of PAI-1 in human longevity remains unclear. We hypothesized that a rare loss-of-function mutation in SERPINE1 (c.699_700dupTA), which encodes PAI-1, could play a role in longevity and metabolism in humans. We studied 177 members of the Berne Amish community, which included 43 carriers of the null SERPINE1 mutation. Heterozygosity was associated with significantly longer leukocyte telomere length, lower fasting insulin levels, and lower prevalence of diabetes mellitus. In the extended Amish kindred, carriers of the null SERPINE1 allele had a longer life span. Our study indicates a causal effect of PAI-1 on human longevity, which may be mediated by alterations in metabolism. Our findings demonstrate the utility of studying loss-of-function mutations in populations with geographic and genetic isolation and shed light on a novel therapeutic target for aging.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Cancer, Mutation, Evolution, Senescence, DNA repair, Telomere


Female mosquitoes display preferences for certain individuals over others, which is determined by differences in volatile chemicals produced by the human body and detected by mosquitoes. Body odour can be controlled genetically but the existence of a genetic basis for differential attraction to insects has never been formally demonstrated. This study investigated heritability of attractiveness to mosquitoes by evaluating the response of Aedes aegypti (=Stegomyia aegypti) mosquitoes to odours from the hands of identical and non-identical twins in a dual-choice assay. Volatiles from individuals in an identical twin pair showed a high correlation in attractiveness to mosquitoes, while non-identical twin pairs showed a significantly lower correlation. Overall, there was a strong narrow-sense heritability of 0.62 (SE 0.124) for relative attraction and 0.67 (0.354) for flight activity based on the average of ten measurements. The results demonstrate an underlying genetic component detectable by mosquitoes through olfaction. Understanding the genetic basis for attractiveness could create a more informed approach to repellent development.

Concepts: Genetics, Mosquito, Human body, Twin, Aedes aegypti, Aedes, Odor, Body odor


DNA methylation plays a critical role in the regulation and maintenance of cell-type specific transcriptional programs. Targeted epigenome editing is an emerging technology to specifically regulate cellular gene expression in order to modulate cell phenotypes or dissect the epigenetic mechanisms involved in their control. In this work, we employed a DNA methyltransferase Dnmt3a-Dnmt3L construct fused to the nuclease-inactivated dCas9 programmable targeting domain to introduce DNA methylation into the human genome specifically at the EpCAM, CXCR4 and TFRC gene promoters. We show that targeting of these loci with single gRNAs leads to efficient and widespread methylation of the promoters. Multiplexing of several guide RNAs does not increase the efficiency of methylation. Peaks of targeted methylation were observed around 25 bp upstream and 40 bp downstream of the PAM site, while 20-30 bp of the binding site itself are protected against methylation. Potent methylation is dependent on the multimerization of Dnmt3a/Dnmt3L complexes on the DNA. Furthermore, the introduced methylation causes transcriptional repression of the targeted genes. These new programmable epigenetic editors allow unprecedented control of the DNA methylation status in cells and will lead to further advances in the understanding of epigenetic signaling.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Transcription, Epigenetics, DNA methylation


Neoplasms occur naturally in invertebrates but are not known to develop in tapeworms. We observed nests of monomorphic, undifferentiated cells in samples from lymph-node and lung biopsies in a man infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The morphologic features and invasive behavior of the cells were characteristic of cancer, but their small size suggested a nonhuman origin. A polymerase-chain-reaction (PCR) assay targeting eukaryotes identified Hymenolepis nana DNA. Although the cells were unrecognizable as tapeworm tissue, immunohistochemical staining and probe hybridization labeled the cells in situ. Comparative deep sequencing identified H. nana structural genomic variants that are compatible with mutations described in cancer. Invasion of human tissue by abnormal, proliferating, genetically altered tapeworm cells is a novel disease mechanism that links infection and cancer.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Gene, Genetics, Cancer, Infectious disease, Genome, Histology


A recent slew of ENCODE Consortium publications, specifically the article signed by all Consortium members, put forward the idea that more than 80% of the human genome is functional. This claim flies in the face of current estimates according to which the fraction of the genome that is evolutionarily conserved through purifying selection is under 10%. Thus, according to the ENCODE Consortium, a biological function can be maintained indefinitely without selection, which implies that at least 80 - 10 = 70% of the genome is perfectly invulnerable to deleterious mutations, either because no mutation can ever occur in these “functional” regions, or because no mutation in these regions can ever be deleterious. This absurd conclusion was reached through various means, chiefly (1) by employing the seldom used “causal role” definition of biological function and then applying it inconsistently to different biochemical properties, (2) by committing a logical fallacy known as “affirming the consequent,” (3) by failing to appreciate the crucial difference between “junk DNA” and “garbage DNA,” (4) by using analytical methods that yield biased errors and inflate estimates of functionality, (5) by favoring statistical sensitivity over specificity, and (6) by emphasizing statistical significance rather than the magnitude of the effect. Here, we detail the many logical and methodological transgressions involved in assigning functionality to almost every nucleotide in the human genome. The ENCODE results were predicted by one of its authors to necessitate the rewriting of textbooks. We agree, many textbooks dealing with marketing, mass-media hype, and public relations may well have to be rewritten.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Natural selection, Human genome, Human Genome Project, Junk DNA


 To assess the impact of communicating DNA based disease risk estimates on risk-reducing health behaviours and motivation to engage in such behaviours.

Concepts: Medicine, Genetics, Epidemiology, Risk, Educational psychology, Behavior, Motivation, Human behavior