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

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


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


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


Nucleic acid amplification is a powerful molecular biology tool, although its use outside the modern laboratory environment is limited due to the relatively cumbersome methods required to extract nucleic acids from biological samples. To address this issue, we investigated a variety of materials for their suitability for nucleic acid capture and purification. We report here that untreated cellulose-based paper can rapidly capture nucleic acids within seconds and retain them during a single washing step, while contaminants present in complex biological samples are quickly removed. Building on this knowledge, we have successfully created an equipment-free nucleic acid extraction dipstick methodology that can obtain amplification-ready DNA and RNA from plants, animals, and microbes from difficult biological samples such as blood and leaves from adult trees in less than 30 seconds. The simplicity and speed of this method as well as the low cost and availability of suitable materials (e.g., common paper towelling), means that nucleic acid extraction is now more accessible and affordable for researchers and the broader community. Furthermore, when combined with recent advancements in isothermal amplification and naked eye DNA visualization techniques, the dipstick extraction technology makes performing molecular diagnostic assays achievable in limited resource settings including university and high school classrooms, field-based environments, and developing countries.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Molecular biology, Biology, Organism, RNA, Nucleic acid


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


Blowflies and houseflies are mechanical vectors inhabiting synanthropic environments around the world. They feed and breed in fecal and decaying organic matter, but the microbiome they harbour and transport is largely uncharacterized. We sampled 116 individual houseflies and blowflies from varying habitats on three continents and subjected them to high-coverage, whole-genome shotgun sequencing. This allowed for genomic and metagenomic analyses of the host-associated microbiome at the species level. Both fly host species segregate based on principal coordinate analysis of their microbial communities, but they also show an overlapping core microbiome. Legs and wings displayed the largest microbial diversity and were shown to be an important route for microbial dispersion. The environmental sequencing approach presented here detected a stochastic distribution of human pathogens, such as Helicobacter pylori, thereby demonstrating the potential of flies as proxies for environmental and public health surveillance.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Bacteria, Molecular biology, Human Genome Project, Microbiology, Helicobacter pylori, Helicobacter, Shotgun sequencing


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


In the first ever systematic genetic survey, we have used rigorous decontamination followed by mitochondrial 12S RNA sequencing to identify the species origin of 30 hair samples attributed to anomalous primates. Two Himalayan samples, one from Ladakh, India, the other from Bhutan, had their closest genetic affinity with a Palaeolithic polar bear, Ursus maritimus. Otherwise the hairs were from a range of known extant mammals.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Molecular biology, Mammal, Himalayas, Bear, Polar bear, Polar Beverages


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