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Concept: Molecular biology


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


The discovery of fluorescent proteins has revolutionized experimental biology. Whereas the majority of fluorescent proteins have been identified from cnidarians, recently several fluorescent proteins have been isolated across the animal tree of life. Here we show that biofluorescence is not only phylogenetically widespread, but is also phenotypically variable across both cartilaginous and bony fishes, highlighting its evolutionary history and the possibility for discovery of numerous novel fluorescent proteins. Fish biofluorescence is especially common and morphologically variable in cryptically patterned coral-reef lineages. We identified 16 orders, 50 families, 105 genera, and more than 180 species of biofluorescent fishes. We have also reconstructed our current understanding of the phylogenetic distribution of biofluorescence for ray-finned fishes. The presence of yellow long-pass intraocular filters in many biofluorescent fish lineages and the substantive color vision capabilities of coral-reef fishes suggest that they are capable of detecting fluoresced light. We present species-specific emission patterns among closely related species, indicating that biofluorescence potentially functions in intraspecific communication and evidence that fluorescence can be used for camouflage. This research provides insight into the distribution, evolution, and phenotypic variability of biofluorescence in marine lineages and examines the role this variation may play.

Concepts: Gene, Evolution, Molecular biology, Biology, Species, Fish, Phylogenetic tree, Vertebrate


Zika virus is causally linked with congenital microcephaly and may be associated with pregnancy loss. However, the mechanisms of Zika virus intrauterine transmission and replication and its tropism and persistence in tissues are poorly understood. We tested tissues from 52 case-patients: 8 infants with microcephaly who died and 44 women suspected of being infected with Zika virus during pregnancy. By reverse transcription PCR, tissues from 32 (62%) case-patients (brains from 8 infants with microcephaly and placental/fetal tissues from 24 women) were positive for Zika virus. In situ hybridization localized replicative Zika virus RNA in brains of 7 infants and in placentas of 9 women who had pregnancy losses during the first or second trimester. These findings demonstrate that Zika virus replicates and persists in fetal brains and placentas, providing direct evidence of its association with microcephaly. Tissue-based reverse transcription PCR extends the time frame of Zika virus detection in congenital and pregnancy-associated infections.

Concepts: DNA, Pregnancy, Molecular biology, Virus, RNA


Human identification from biological material is largely dependent on the ability to characterize genetic polymorphisms in DNA. Unfortunately, DNA can degrade in the environment, sometimes below the level at which it can be amplified by PCR. Protein however is chemically more robust than DNA and can persist for longer periods. Protein also contains genetic variation in the form of single amino acid polymorphisms. These can be used to infer the status of non-synonymous single nucleotide polymorphism alleles. To demonstrate this, we used mass spectrometry-based shotgun proteomics to characterize hair shaft proteins in 66 European-American subjects. A total of 596 single nucleotide polymorphism alleles were correctly imputed in 32 loci from 22 genes of subjects' DNA and directly validated using Sanger sequencing. Estimates of the probability of resulting individual non-synonymous single nucleotide polymorphism allelic profiles in the European population, using the product rule, resulted in a maximum power of discrimination of 1 in 12,500. Imputed non-synonymous single nucleotide polymorphism profiles from European-American subjects were considerably less frequent in the African population (maximum likelihood ratio = 11,000). The converse was true for hair shafts collected from an additional 10 subjects with African ancestry, where some profiles were more frequent in the African population. Genetically variant peptides were also identified in hair shaft datasets from six archaeological skeletal remains (up to 260 years old). This study demonstrates that quantifiable measures of identity discrimination and biogeographic background can be obtained from detecting genetically variant peptides in hair shaft protein, including hair from bioarchaeological contexts.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Allele, Molecular biology, Biology


Recent advances in whole-genome sequencing have brought the vision of personal genomics and genomic medicine closer to reality. However, current methods lack clinical accuracy and the ability to describe the context (haplotypes) in which genome variants co-occur in a cost-effective manner. Here we describe a low-cost DNA sequencing and haplotyping process, long fragment read (LFR) technology, which is similar to sequencing long single DNA molecules without cloning or separation of metaphase chromosomes. In this study, ten LFR libraries were made using only ∼100 picograms of human DNA per sample. Up to 97% of the heterozygous single nucleotide variants were assembled into long haplotype contigs. Removal of false positive single nucleotide variants not phased by multiple LFR haplotypes resulted in a final genome error rate of 1 in 10 megabases. Cost-effective and accurate genome sequencing and haplotyping from 10-20 human cells, as demonstrated here, will enable comprehensive genetic studies and diverse clinical applications.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Molecular biology, Genomics, Chromosome, Personal genomics


Models have made numerous contributions to evolutionary biology, but misunderstandings persist regarding their purpose. By formally testing the logic of verbal hypotheses, proof-of-concept models clarify thinking, uncover hidden assumptions, and spur new directions of study. thumbnail image credit: modified from the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Concepts: Evolution, Molecular biology, Mathematics, Life, Species, Ecology, Charles Darwin, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck


Failure to archive published data can impede reproducibility and inhibit downstream synthesis. Alarmingly, we estimate that ∼70% of existing DNA sequence alignments/phylogenetic trees, representing much of the underpinning of modern phylogenetic analysis, are no longer accessible. The evolutionary biology community needs to adopt policies ensuring that data are publicly archived upon publication.

Concepts: DNA, Evolution, Molecular biology, Biology, Organism, Life, Species, Charles Darwin


Domestication of the now-extinct wild aurochs, Bos primigenius, gave rise to the two major domestic extant cattle taxa, B. taurus and B. indicus. While previous genetic studies have shed some light on the evolutionary relationships between European aurochs and modern cattle, important questions remain unanswered, including the phylogenetic status of aurochs, whether gene flow from aurochs into early domestic populations occurred, and which genomic regions were subject to selection processes during and after domestication. Here, we address these questions using whole-genome sequencing data generated from an approximately 6,750-year-old British aurochs bone and genome sequence data from 81 additional cattle plus genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism data from a diverse panel of 1,225 modern animals.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Molecular biology, Cattle, Bos, Aurochs


Understanding Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) transmission is essential to guide efficient tuberculosis control strategies. Traditional strain typing lacks sufficient discriminatory power to resolve large outbreaks. Here, we tested the potential of using next generation genome sequencing for identification of outbreak-related transmission chains.

Concepts: DNA, Epidemiology, Molecular biology, Tuberculosis, Mycobacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Outbreak, Shotgun sequencing


Adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors have emerged as a gene-delivery platform with demonstrated safety and efficacy in a handful of clinical trials for monogenic disorders. However, limitations of the current generation vectors often prevent broader application of AAV gene therapy. Efforts to engineer AAV vectors have been hampered by a limited understanding of the structure-function relationship of the complex multimeric icosahedral architecture of the particle. To develop additional reagents pertinent to further our insight into AAVs, we inferred evolutionary intermediates of the viral capsid using ancestral sequence reconstruction. In-silico-derived sequences were synthesized de novo and characterized for biological properties relevant to clinical applications. This effort led to the generation of nine functional putative ancestral AAVs and the identification of Anc80, the predicted ancestor of the widely studied AAV serotypes 1, 2, 8, and 9, as a highly potent in vivo gene therapy vector for targeting liver, muscle, and retina.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Molecular biology, Biology, Microbiology, Virus, Adeno-associated virus, Gene therapy