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Concept: Genetics


Genetic engineering technologies can be used both to create transgenic mosquitoes carrying antipathogen effector genes targeting human malaria parasites and to generate gene-drive systems capable of introgressing the genes throughout wild vector populations. We developed a highly effective autonomous Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)-associated protein 9 (Cas9)-mediated gene-drive system in the Asian malaria vector Anopheles stephensi, adapted from the mutagenic chain reaction (MCR). This specific system results in progeny of males and females derived from transgenic males exhibiting a high frequency of germ-line gene conversion consistent with homology-directed repair (HDR). This system copies an ∼17-kb construct from its site of insertion to its homologous chromosome in a faithful, site-specific manner. Dual anti-Plasmodium falciparum effector genes, a marker gene, and the autonomous gene-drive components are introgressed into ∼99.5% of the progeny following outcrosses of transgenic lines to wild-type mosquitoes. The effector genes remain transcriptionally inducible upon blood feeding. In contrast to the efficient conversion in individuals expressing Cas9 only in the germ line, males and females derived from transgenic females, which are expected to have drive component molecules in the egg, produce progeny with a high frequency of mutations in the targeted genome sequence, resulting in near-Mendelian inheritance ratios of the transgene. Such mutant alleles result presumably from nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) events before the segregation of somatic and germ-line lineages early in development. These data support the design of this system to be active strictly within the germ line. Strains based on this technology could sustain control and elimination as part of the malaria eradication agenda.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Allele, Malaria, Plasmodium, Anopheles, Mosquito


CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9)-mediated genome editing provides a promising cure for HIV-1/AIDS; however, gene delivery efficiency in vivo remains an obstacle to overcome. Here, we demonstrate the feasibility and efficiency of excising the HIV-1 provirus in three different animal models using an all-in-one adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector to deliver multiplex single-guide RNAs (sgRNAs) plus Staphylococcus aureus Cas9 (saCas9). The quadruplex sgRNAs/saCas9 vector outperformed the duplex vector in excising the integrated HIV-1 genome in cultured neural stem/progenitor cells from HIV-1 Tg26 transgenic mice. Intravenously injected quadruplex sgRNAs/saCas9 AAV-DJ/8 excised HIV-1 proviral DNA and significantly reduced viral RNA expression in several organs/tissues of Tg26 mice. In EcoHIV acutely infected mice, intravenously injected quadruplex sgRNAs/saCas9 AAV-DJ/8 reduced systemic EcoHIV infection, as determined by live bioluminescence imaging. Additionally, this quadruplex vector induced efficient proviral excision, as determined by PCR genotyping in the liver, lungs, brain, and spleen. Finally, in humanized bone marrow/liver/thymus (BLT) mice with chronic HIV-1 infection, successful proviral excision was detected by PCR genotyping in the spleen, lungs, heart, colon, and brain after a single intravenous injection of quadruplex sgRNAs/saCas9 AAV-DJ/8. In conclusion, in vivo excision of HIV-1 proviral DNA by sgRNAs/saCas9 in solid tissues/organs can be achieved via AAV delivery, a significant step toward human clinical trials.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Bacteria, Molecular biology, Virus, RNA


Pathogens and the diseases they cause have been among the most important selective forces experienced by humans during their evolutionary history. Although adaptive alleles generally arise by mutation, introgression can also be a valuable source of beneficial alleles. Archaic humans, who lived in Europe and Western Asia for more than 200,000 years, were probably well adapted to this environment and its local pathogens. It is therefore conceivable that modern humans entering Europe and Western Asia who admixed with them obtained a substantial immune advantage from the introgression of archaic alleles. Here we document a cluster of three Toll-like receptors (TLR6-TLR1-TLR10) in modern humans that carries three distinct archaic haplotypes, indicating repeated introgression from archaic humans. Two of these haplotypes are most similar to the Neandertal genome, and the third haplotype is most similar to the Denisovan genome. The Toll-like receptors are key components of innate immunity and provide an important first line of immune defense against bacteria, fungi, and parasites. The unusually high allele frequencies and unexpected levels of population differentiation indicate that there has been local positive selection on multiple haplotypes at this locus. We show that the introgressed alleles have clear functional effects in modern humans; archaic-like alleles underlie differences in the expression of the TLR genes and are associated with reduced microbial resistance and increased allergic disease in large cohorts. This provides strong evidence for recurrent adaptive introgression at the TLR6-TLR1-TLR10 locus, resulting in differences in disease phenotypes in modern humans.

Concepts: Immune system, Gene, Genetics, Natural selection, Bacteria, Evolution, Innate immune system, Genetic genealogy


Obtaining high-quality samples from wild animals is a major obstacle for genomic studies of many taxa, particularly at the population level, as collection methods for such samples are typically invasive. DNA from feces is easy to obtain noninvasively, but is dominated by bacterial and other non-host DNA. The high proportion of non-host DNA drastically reduces the efficiency of high-throughput sequencing for host animal genomics. To address this issue, we developed an inexpensive capture method for enriching host DNA from noninvasive fecal samples. Our method exploits natural differences in CpG-methylation density between vertebrate and bacterial genomes to preferentially bind and isolate host DNA from majority-bacterial samples. We demonstrate that the enrichment is robust, efficient, and compatible with downstream library preparation methods useful for population studies (e.g., RADseq). Compared to other enrichment strategies, our method is quick and inexpensive, adding only a negligible cost to sample preparation. In combination with downstream methods such as RADseq, our approach allows for cost-effective and customizable genomic-scale genotyping that was previously feasible in practice only with invasive samples. Because feces are widely available and convenient to collect, our method empowers researchers to explore genomic-scale population-level questions in organisms for which invasive sampling is challenging or undesirable.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Biology, Organism, Genome, Genomics, Demography


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


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


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


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


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


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