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

Concept: Genotype


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


Pigmentation is a polygenic trait encompassing some of the most visible phenotypic variation observed in humans. Here we present direct estimates of selection acting on functional alleles in three key genes known to be involved in human pigmentation pathways-HERC2, SLC45A2, and TYR-using allele frequency estimates from Eneolithic, Bronze Age, and modern Eastern European samples and forward simulations. Neutrality was overwhelmingly rejected for all alleles studied, with point estimates of selection ranging from around 2-10% per generation. Our results provide direct evidence that strong selection favoring lighter skin, hair, and eye pigmentation has been operating in European populations over the last 5,000 y.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Natural selection, Genotype, Evolution, Copper, Human skin color, Eye color


Assessing the impact of the social environment on health and disease is challenging. As social effects are in part determined by the genetic makeup of social partners, they can be studied from associations between genotypes of one individual and phenotype of another (social genetic effects, SGE, also called indirect genetic effects). For the first time we quantified the contribution of SGE to more than 100 organismal phenotypes and genome-wide gene expression measured in laboratory mice. We find that genetic variation in cage mates (i.e. SGE) contributes to variation in organismal and molecular measures related to anxiety, wound healing, immune function, and body weight. Social genetic effects explained up to 29% of phenotypic variance, and for several traits their contribution exceeded that of direct genetic effects (effects of an individual’s genotypes on its own phenotype). Importantly, we show that ignoring SGE can severely bias estimates of direct genetic effects (heritability). Thus SGE may be an important source of “missing heritability” in studies of complex traits in human populations. In summary, our study uncovers an important contribution of the social environment to phenotypic variation, sets the basis for using SGE to dissect social effects, and identifies an opportunity to improve studies of direct genetic effects.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Natural selection, Genotype, Evolution, Phenotype, Heredity


Inter-individual variation in facial shape is one of the most noticeable phenotypes in humans, and it is clearly under genetic regulation; however, almost nothing is known about the genetic basis of normal human facial morphology. We therefore conducted a genome-wide association study for facial shape phenotypes in multiple discovery and replication cohorts, considering almost ten thousand individuals of European descent from several countries. Phenotyping of facial shape features was based on landmark data obtained from three-dimensional head magnetic resonance images (MRIs) and two-dimensional portrait images. We identified five independent genetic loci associated with different facial phenotypes, suggesting the involvement of five candidate genes-PRDM16, PAX3, TP63, C5orf50, and COL17A1-in the determination of the human face. Three of them have been implicated previously in vertebrate craniofacial development and disease, and the remaining two genes potentially represent novel players in the molecular networks governing facial development. Our finding at PAX3 influencing the position of the nasion replicates a recent GWAS of facial features. In addition to the reported GWA findings, we established links between common DNA variants previously associated with NSCL/P at 2p21, 8q24, 13q31, and 17q22 and normal facial-shape variations based on a candidate gene approach. Overall our study implies that DNA variants in genes essential for craniofacial development contribute with relatively small effect size to the spectrum of normal variation in human facial morphology. This observation has important consequences for future studies aiming to identify more genes involved in the human facial morphology, as well as for potential applications of DNA prediction of facial shape such as in future forensic applications.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Genotype, Evolution, Phenotype, Francis Crick


There are many situations where relatives interact while at the same time there is genetic polymorphism in traits influencing survival and reproduction. Examples include cheater-cooperator polymorphism and polymorphic microbial pathogens. Environmental heterogeneity, favoring different traits in nearby habitats, with dispersal between them, is one general reason to expect polymorphism. Currently, there is no formal framework of social evolution that encompasses genetic polymorphism. We develop such a framework, thus integrating theories of social evolution into the evolutionary ecology of heterogeneous environments. We allow for adaptively maintained genetic polymorphism by applying the concept of genetic cues. We analyze a model of social evolution in a two-habitat situation with limited dispersal between habitats, in which the average relatedness at the time of helping and other benefits of helping can differ between habitats. An important result from the analysis is that alleles at a polymorphic locus play the role of genetic cues, in the sense that the presence of a cue allele contains statistical information for an organism about its current environment, including information about relatedness. We show that epistatic modifiers of the cue polymorphism can evolve to make optimal use of the information in the genetic cue, in analogy with a Bayesian decision maker. Another important result is that the genetic linkage between a cue locus and modifier loci influences the evolutionary interest of modifiers, with tighter linkage leading to greater divergence between social traits induced by different cue alleles, and this can be understood in terms of genetic conflict.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Genotype, Allele, Evolution, Organism, Mendelian inheritance


BACKGROUND: The only known albino gorilla, named Snowflake, was a male wild born individual from Equatorial Guinea who lived at the Barcelona Zoo for almost 40 years. He was diagnosed with non-syndromic oculocutaneous albinism, i.e. white hair, light eyes, pink skin, photophobia and reduced visual acuity. Despite previous efforts to explain the genetic cause, this is still unknown. Here, we study the genetic cause of his albinism and making use of whole genome sequencing data we find a higher inbreeding coefficient compared to other gorillas. RESULTS: We successfully identified the causal genetic variant for Snowflake’s albinism, a non-synonymous single nucleotide variant located in a transmembrane region of SLC45A2. This transporter is known to be involved in oculocutaneous albinism type 4 (OCA4) in humans. We provide experimental evidence that shows that this amino acid replacement alters the membrane spanning capability of this transmembrane region. Finally, we provide a comprehensive study of genome-wide patterns of autozygogosity revealing that Snowflake’s parents were related, being this the first report of inbreeding in a wild born Western lowland gorilla. CONCLUSIONS: In this study we demonstrate how the use of whole genome sequencing can be extended to link genotype and phenotype in non-model organisms and it can be a powerful tool in conservation genetics (e.g., inbreeding and genetic diversity) with the expected decrease in sequencing cost.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genotype, Evolution, Population genetics, Oculocutaneous albinism, Western Lowland Gorilla


Progress in regenerative medicine requires reverse-engineering cellular control networks to infer perturbations with desired systems-level outcomes. Such dynamic models allow phenotypic predictions for novel perturbations to be rapidly assessed in silico. Here, we analyzed a Xenopus model of conversion of melanocytes to a metastatic-like phenotype only previously observed in an all-or-none manner. Prior in vivo genetic and pharmacological experiments showed that individual animals either fully convert or remain normal, at some characteristic frequency after a given perturbation. We developed a Machine Learning method which inferred a model explaining this complex, stochastic all-or-none dataset. We then used this model to ask how a new phenotype could be generated: animals in which only some of the melanocytes converted. Systematically performing in silico perturbations, the model predicted that a combination of altanserin (5HTR2 inhibitor), reserpine (VMAT inhibitor), and VP16-XlCreb1 (constitutively active CREB) would break the all-or-none concordance. Remarkably, applying the predicted combination of three reagents in vivo revealed precisely the expected novel outcome, resulting in partial conversion of melanocytes within individuals. This work demonstrates the capability of automated analysis of dynamic models of signaling networks to discover novel phenotypes and predictively identify specific manipulations that can reach them.

Concepts: Scientific method, Gene, Genotype, Evolution, In vivo, Phenotype, Logic, Heredity


Male-pattern baldness (MPB) is a common and highly heritable trait characterized by androgen-dependent, progressive hair loss from the scalp. Here, we carry out the largest GWAS meta-analysis of MPB to date, comprising 10,846 early-onset cases and 11,672 controls from eight independent cohorts. We identify 63 MPB-associated loci (P<5 × 10(-8), METAL) of which 23 have not been reported previously. The 63 loci explain ∼39% of the phenotypic variance in MPB and highlight several plausible candidate genes (FGF5, IRF4, DKK2) and pathways (melatonin signalling, adipogenesis) that are likely to be implicated in the key-pathophysiological features of MPB and may represent promising targets for the development of novel therapeutic options. The data provide molecular evidence that rather than being an isolated trait, MPB shares a substantial biological basis with numerous other human phenotypes and may deserve evaluation as an early prognostic marker, for example, for prostate cancer, sudden cardiac arrest and neurodegenerative disorders.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Natural selection, Genotype, Evolution, Phenotype, Heredity, Wilhelm Johannsen


Why evolvability appears to have increased over evolutionary time is an important unresolved biological question. Unlike most candidate explanations, this paper proposes that increasing evolvability can result without any pressure to adapt. The insight is that if evolvability is heritable, then an unbiased drifting process across genotypes can still create a distribution of phenotypes biased towards evolvability, because evolvable organisms diffuse more quickly through the space of possible phenotypes. Furthermore, because phenotypic divergence often correlates with founding niches, niche founders may on average be more evolvable, which through population growth provides a genotypic bias towards evolvability. Interestingly, the combination of these two mechanisms can lead to increasing evolvability without any pressure to out-compete other organisms, as demonstrated through experiments with a series of simulated models. Thus rather than from pressure to adapt, evolvability may inevitably result from any drift through genotypic space combined with evolution’s passive tendency to accumulate niches.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Natural selection, Genotype, Evolution, Biology, Phenotype


BACKGROUND: The recalcitrance of lignocellulosic cell wall biomass to deconstruction varies greatly in angiosperms, yet the source of this variation remains unclear. Here, in eight genotypes of short rotation coppice willow (Salix sp.) variability of the reaction wood (RW) response and the impact of this variation on cell wall recalcitrance to enzymatic saccharification was considered. RESULTS: A pot trial was designed to test if the ‘RW response’ varies between willow genotypes and contributes to the differences observed in cell wall recalcitrance to enzymatic saccharification in field-grown trees. Biomass composition was measured via wet chemistry and used with glucose release yields from enzymatic saccharification to determine cell wall recalcitrance. The levels of glucose release found for pot-grown control trees showed no significant correlation with glucose release from mature field-grown trees. However, when a RW phenotype was induced in pot-grown trees, glucose release was strongly correlated with that for mature field-grown trees. Field studies revealed a 5-fold increase in glucose release from a genotype grown at a site exposed to high wind speeds (a potentially high RW inducing environment) when compared with the same genotype grown at a more sheltered site. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings provide evidence for a new concept concerning variation in the recalcitrance to enzymatic hydrolysis of the stem biomass of different, field-grown willow genotypes (and potentially other angiosperms). Specifically, that genotypic differences in the ability to produce a response to RW inducing conditions (a ‘RW response’) indicate that this RW response is a primary determinant of the variation observed in cell wall glucan accessibility. The identification of the importance of this RW response trait in willows, is likely to be valuable in selective breeding strategies in willow (and other angiosperm) biofuel crops and, with further work to dissect the nature of RW variation, could provide novel targets for genetic modification for improved biofuel feedstocks.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genotype, Evolution, Enzyme, Biofuel, Willow