SciCombinator

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Concept: Nucleic acid

203

Biological macromolecules function in highly crowded cellular environments. The structure and dynamics of proteins and nucleic acids are well characterized in vitro, but in vivo crowding effects remain unclear. Using molecular dynamics simulations of a comprehensive atomistic model cytoplasm we found that protein-protein interactions may destabilize native protein structures, whereas metabolite interactions may induce more compact states due to electrostatic screening. Protein-protein interactions also resulted in significant variations in reduced macromolecular diffusion under crowded conditions, while metabolites exhibited significant two-dimensional surface diffusion and altered protein-ligand binding that may reduce the effective concentration of metabolites and ligands in vivo. Metabolic enzymes showed weak non-specific association in cellular environments attributed to solvation and entropic effects. These effects are expected to have broad implications for the in vivo functioning of biomolecules. This work is a first step towards physically realistic in silico whole-cell models that connect molecular with cellular biology.

Concepts: Protein, Cell, Molecular biology, Metabolism, Enzyme, Nucleic acid, Biochemistry, Macromolecule

168

BACKGROUND: High-throughput deep-sequencing technology has generated an unprecedented number of expressed sequence reads that offer the opportunity to get insight into biological systems. Several databases report the sequence of small regulatory RNAs which play a prominent role in the control of transposable elements (TE). However, the huge amount of data reported in these databases remains mostly unexplored because the available tools are hard for biologists to use. RESULTS: Here we report NucBase, a new program designed to make an exhaustive search for sequence matches and to align short sequence reads from large nucleic acid databases to genomes or input sequences. NucBase includes a graphical interface which allows biologists to align sequences with ease and immediately visualize matched sequences, their number and their genomic position. NucBase identifies nucleic motives with strict identity to input sequences, and it capably finds candidates with one or several mismatches. It offers the opportunity to identify “core sequences” comprised of a chosen number of consecutive matching nucleotides. This software can be run locally on any Windows, Linux or Mac OS computer with 32-bit architecture compatibility. CONCLUSIONS: Since this software is easy to use and can detect reads that were undetected by other software, we believe that it will be useful for biologists involved in the field of TE silencing by small non-coding RNAs. We hope NucBase will be useful for a larger community of researchers, since it makes exploration of small nucleic sequences in any organism much easier.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genome, RNA, Nucleic acid, Non-coding RNA, Operating system

148

The RecQ4 helicase belongs to the ubiquitous RecQ family but its exact role in the cell is not completely understood. In addition to the helicase domain, RecQ4 has a unique N-terminal part that is essential for viability and is constituted by a region homologous to the yeast Sld2 replication initiation factor, followed by a cysteine-rich region, predicted to fold as a Zn knuckle. We carried out a structural and biochemical analysis of both the human and Xenopus laevis RecQ4 cysteine-rich regions, and showed by NMR spectroscopy that the Xenopus fragment indeed assumes the canonical Zn knuckle fold, whereas the human sequence remains unstructured, consistent with the mutation of one of the Zn ligands. Both the human and Xenopus Zn knuckles bind to a variety of nucleic acid substrates, with a mild preference for RNA. We also investigated the effect of a segment located upstream the Zn knuckle that is highly conserved and rich in positively charged and aromatic residues, partially overlapping with the C-terminus of the Sld2-like domain. In both the human and Xenopus proteins, the presence of this region strongly enhances binding to nucleic acids. These results reveal novel possible roles of RecQ4 in DNA replication and genome stability.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Molecular biology, Metabolism, RNA, Nucleic acid, Biochemistry, Adenine

122

Metagenomic shotgun sequencing (MSS) is an important tool for characterizing viral populations. It is culture-independent, requires no a priori knowledge of the viruses in the sample, and may provide useful genomic information. However, MSS can lack sensitivity and may yield insufficient data for detailed analysis. We have created a targeted sequence capture panel, ViroCap, designed to enrich nucleic acid from DNA and RNA viruses from 34 families that infect vertebrate hosts. A computational approach condensed nearly 1 billion base pair (bp) of viral reference sequence into less than 200 million bp of unique, representative sequence suitable for targeted sequence capture. We compared the effectiveness of detecting viruses in standard MSS versus MSS following targeted sequence capture. First, we analyzed two sets of samples, one derived from samples submitted to a diagnostic virology laboratory and one derived from samples collected in a study of fever in children. We detected 14 and 18 viruses in the two sets, comprising 19 genera from 10 families, with dramatic enhancement of genome representation following capture enrichment. The median fold-increases in percent viral reads post-capture were 674 and 296. Median breadth of coverage increased from 2.1% to 83.2% post-capture in the first set and from 2.0% to 75.6% in the second set. Next, we analyzed samples containing a set of diverse anellovirus sequences and demonstrated that ViroCap could be used to detect viral sequences with up to 58% variation from the references used to select capture probes. ViroCap substantially enhances MSS for a comprehensive set of viruses and has utility for research and clinical applications.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Virus, Genome, RNA, Nucleic acid, Sequence, A priori and a posteriori

103

Current multiplexed diagnostics for Zika, dengue, and chikungunya viruses are situated outside the intersection of affordability, high performance, and suitability for use at the point-of-care in resource-limited settings. Consequently, insufficient diagnostic capabilities are a key limitation facing current Zika outbreak management strategies. Here we demonstrate highly sensitive and specific detection of Zika, chikungunya, and dengue viruses by coupling reverse-transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP) with our recently developed quenching of unincorporated amplification signal reporters (QUASR) technique. We conduct reactions in a simple, inexpensive and portable “LAMP box” supplemented with a consumer class smartphone. The entire assembly can be powered by a 5 V USB source such as a USB power bank or solar panel. Our smartphone employs a novel algorithm utilizing chromaticity to analyze fluorescence signals, which improves the discrimination of positive/negative signals by 5-fold when compared to detection with traditional RGB intensity sensors or the naked eye. The ability to detect ZIKV directly from crude human sample matrices (blood, urine, and saliva) demonstrates our device’s utility for widespread clinical deployment. Together, these advances enable our system to host the key components necessary to expand the use of nucleic acid amplification-based detection assays towards point-of-care settings where they are needed most.

Concepts: Diagnosis, Nucleic acid, English-language films, Signal, The Key, Chikungunya, Demonstration, Universal Serial Bus

55

DNA sequencing by synthesis (SBS) offers a robust platform to decipher nucleic acid sequences. Recently, we reported a single-molecule nanopore-based SBS strategy that accurately distinguishes four bases by electronically detecting and differentiating four different polymer tags attached to the 5'-phosphate of the nucleotides during their incorporation into a growing DNA strand catalyzed by DNA polymerase. Further developing this approach, we report here the use of nucleotides tagged at the terminal phosphate with oligonucleotide-based polymers to perform nanopore SBS on an α-hemolysin nanopore array platform. We designed and synthesized several polymer-tagged nucleotides using tags that produce different electrical current blockade levels and verified they are active substrates for DNA polymerase. A highly processive DNA polymerase was conjugated to the nanopore, and the conjugates were complexed with primer/template DNA and inserted into lipid bilayers over individually addressable electrodes of the nanopore chip. When an incoming complementary-tagged nucleotide forms a tight ternary complex with the primer/template and polymerase, the tag enters the pore, and the current blockade level is measured. The levels displayed by the four nucleotides tagged with four different polymers captured in the nanopore in such ternary complexes were clearly distinguishable and sequence-specific, enabling continuous sequence determination during the polymerase reaction. Thus, real-time single-molecule electronic DNA sequencing data with single-base resolution were obtained. The use of these polymer-tagged nucleotides, combined with polymerase tethering to nanopores and multiplexed nanopore sensors, should lead to new high-throughput sequencing methods.

Concepts: DNA, Polymerase chain reaction, Metabolism, Adenosine triphosphate, RNA, Phosphate, Nucleic acid, Nucleotide

39

Nucleic acid editing holds promise for treating genetic disease, particularly at the RNA level, where disease-relevant sequences can be rescued to yield functional protein products. Type VI CRISPR-Cas systems contain the programmable single-effector RNA-guided RNases Cas13. Here, we profile Type VI systems to engineer a Cas13 ortholog capable of robust knockdown and demonstrate RNA editing by using catalytically-inactive Cas13 (dCas13) to direct adenosine to inosine deaminase activity by ADAR2 to transcripts in mammalian cells. This system, referred to as RNA Editing for Programmable A to I Replacement (REPAIR), which has no strict sequence constraints, can be used to edit full-length transcripts containing pathogenic mutations. We further engineer this system to create a high specificity variant and minimize the system to facilitate viral delivery. REPAIR presents a promising RNA editing platform with broad applicability for research, therapeutics, and biotechnology.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Cell nucleus, Bacteria, RNA, Nucleic acid, Adenosine deaminase, Adenine

34

Rapid, inexpensive, and sensitive nucleic acid detection may aid point-of-care pathogen detection, genotyping, and disease monitoring. The RNA-guided, RNA-targeting CRISPR effector Cas13a (previously known as C2c2) exhibits a “collateral effect” of promiscuous RNAse activity upon target recognition. We combine the collateral effect of Cas13a with isothermal amplification to establish a CRISPR-based diagnostic (CRISPR-Dx), providing rapid DNA or RNA detection with attomolar sensitivity and single-base mismatch specificity. We use this Cas13a-based molecular detection platform, termed SHERLOCK (Specific High Sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter UnLOCKing), to detect specific strains of Zika and Dengue virus, distinguish pathogenic bacteria, genotype human DNA, and identify cell-free tumor DNA mutations. Furthermore, SHERLOCK reaction reagents can be lyophilized for cold-chain independence and long-term storage, and readily reconstituted on paper for field applications.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Bacteria, Evolution, Microbiology, Virus, RNA, Nucleic acid

33

Next-generation sequencing was used for discovery and de novo assembly of a novel, highly divergent DNA virus at the interface between the Parvoviridae and Circoviridae. The virus, provisionally named “parvovirus-like” hybrid virus (PHV), is nearly identical by sequence to another DNA virus, NIH-CQV, previously reported in Chinese patients with seronegative (non-A-E) hepatitis. Although we initially detected PHV in a wide range of clinical samples, with all strains sharing ∼99% nucleotide and amino acid identity with each other and with NIH-CQV, the exact origin of the virus was eventually traced to contaminated silica-binding spin columns used for nucleic acid extraction. Definitive confirmation of the origin of PHV, and presumably NIH-CQV, was obtained by in-depth analyses of water eluted through contaminated spin columns. Analysis of environmental metagenome libraries detected PHV sequences in coastal marine waters of North America, suggesting that a potential association between PHV and diatoms (algae) that generate the silica matrix used in the spin columns may have resulted in inadvertent viral contamination during manufacture. The confirmation of PHV/NIH-CQV as laboratory reagent contaminants and not bona fide infectious agents of humans underscores the rigorous approach needed to establish the validity of new viral genomes discovered by next-generation sequencing.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Bacteria, Metabolism, Virus, Genome, RNA, Nucleic acid

31

Most molecular diagnostic assays require upfront sample preparation steps to isolate the target’s nucleic acids, followed by its amplification and detection using various nucleic acid amplification techniques. Because molecular diagnostic methods are generally rather difficult to perform manually without highly trained users, automated and integrated systems are highly desirable but too costly for use at point-of-care or low-resource settings. Here, we showcase the development of a low-cost and rapid nucleic acid isolation and amplification platform by modifying entry-level 3D printers that cost between $400 and $750. Our modifications consisted of replacing the extruder with a tip-comb attachment that houses magnets to conduct magnetic particle-based nucleic acid extraction. We then programmed the 3D printer to conduct motions that can perform high-quality extraction protocols. Up to 12 samples can be processed simultaneously in under 13 minutes and the efficiency of nucleic acid isolation matches well against gold-standard spin-column-based extraction technology. Additionally, we used the 3D printer’s heated bed to supply heat to perform water bath-based polymerase chain reactions (PCRs). Using another attachment to hold PCR tubes, the 3D printer was programmed to automate the process of shuttling PCR tubes between water baths. By eliminating the temperature ramping needed in most commercial thermal cyclers, the run time of a 35-cycle PCR protocol was shortened by 33%. This article demonstrates that for applications in resource-limited settings, expensive nucleic acid extraction devices and thermal cyclers that are used in many central laboratories can be potentially replaced by a device modified from inexpensive entry-level 3D printers.

Concepts: DNA, Polymerase chain reaction, Molecular biology, Nucleic acid, DNA polymerase, Thermus aquaticus, Taq polymerase, Thermal cycler