SciCombinator

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Concept: Nucleic acid

339

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

190

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

174

As reports on possible associations between microbes and the host increase in number, more meaningful interpretations of this information require an ability to compare data sets across studies. This is dependent upon standardization of workflows to ensure comparability both within and between studies. Here we propose the standard use of an alternate collection and stabilization method that would facilitate such comparisons. The DNA Genotek OMNIgene∙Gut Stool Microbiome Kit was compared to the currently accepted community standard of freezing to store human stool samples prior to whole genome sequencing (WGS) for microbiome studies. This stabilization and collection device allows for ambient temperature storage, automation, and ease of shipping/transfer of samples. The device permitted the same data reproducibility as with frozen samples, and yielded higher recovery of nucleic acids. Collection and stabilization of stool microbiome samples with the DNA Genotek collection device, combined with our extraction and WGS, provides a robust, reproducible workflow that enables standardized global collection, storage, and analysis of stool for microbiome studies.

Concepts: DNA, Comparison, Bacteria, Biotechnology, DNA sequencing, Nucleic acid, Standardization, Shotgun sequencing

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

121

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

43

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

41

Off-target DNA cleavage is a paramount concern when applying CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology to functional genetics and human therapeutic applications. Here, we show that incorporation of next-generation bridged nucleic acids (2',4'-BNANC[N-Me]) as well as locked nucleic acids (LNA) at specific locations in CRISPR-RNAs (crRNAs) broadly reduces off-target DNA cleavage by Cas9 in vitro and in cells by several orders of magnitude. Using single-molecule FRET experiments we show that BNANC incorporation slows Cas9 kinetics and improves specificity by inducing a highly dynamic crRNA-DNA duplex for off-target sequences, which shortens dwell time in the cleavage-competent, “zipped” conformation. In addition to describing a robust technique for improving the precision of CRISPR/Cas9-based gene editing, this study illuminates an application of synthetic nucleic acids.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Cell nucleus, Bacteria, Virus, RNA, Nucleic acid