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Concept: Nucleotide


Single-molecule techniques facilitate analysis of mechanical transitions within nucleic acids and proteins. Here, we describe an integrated fluorescence and magnetic tweezers instrument that permits detection of nanometer-scale DNA structural rearrangements together with the application of a wide range of stretching forces to individual DNA molecules. We have analyzed the force-dependent equilibrium and rate constants for telomere DNA G-quadruplex (GQ) folding and unfolding, and have determined the location of the transition state barrier along the well-defined DNA-stretching reaction coordinate. Our results reveal the mechanical unfolding pathway of the telomere DNA GQ is characterized by a short distance (<1 nm) to the transition state for the unfolding reaction. This mechanical unfolding response reflects a critical contribution of long-range interactions to the global stability of the GQ fold, and suggests that telomere-associated proteins need only disrupt a few base pairs to destabilize GQ structures. Comparison of the GQ unfolded state with a single-stranded polyT DNA revealed the unfolded GQ exhibits a compacted non-native conformation reminiscent of the protein molten globule. We expect the capacity to interrogate macromolecular structural transitions with high spatial resolution under conditions of low forces will have broad application in analyses of nucleic acid and protein folding.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Protein structure, Base pair, Protein folding, Hydrogen bond, Telomere, Nucleotide


Organisms are defined by the information encoded in their genomes, and since the origin of life this information has been encoded using a two-base-pair genetic alphabet (A-T and G-C). In vitro, the alphabet has been expanded to include several unnatural base pairs (UBPs). We have developed a class of UBPs formed between nucleotides bearing hydrophobic nucleobases, exemplified by the pair formed between d5SICS and dNaM (d5SICS-dNaM), which is efficiently PCR-amplified and transcribed in vitro, and whose unique mechanism of replication has been characterized. However, expansion of an organism’s genetic alphabet presents new and unprecedented challenges: the unnatural nucleoside triphosphates must be available inside the cell; endogenous polymerases must be able to use the unnatural triphosphates to faithfully replicate DNA containing the UBP within the complex cellular milieu; and finally, the UBP must be stable in the presence of pathways that maintain the integrity of DNA. Here we show that an exogenously expressed algal nucleotide triphosphate transporter efficiently imports the triphosphates of both d5SICS and dNaM (d5SICSTP and dNaMTP) into Escherichia coli, and that the endogenous replication machinery uses them to accurately replicate a plasmid containing d5SICS-dNaM. Neither the presence of the unnatural triphosphates nor the replication of the UBP introduces a notable growth burden. Lastly, we find that the UBP is not efficiently excised by DNA repair pathways. Thus, the resulting bacterium is the first organism to propagate stably an expanded genetic alphabet.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Genome, RNA, Base pair, Nucleotide


The RNA World hypothesis presupposes that abiotic reactions originally produced nucleotides, the monomers of RNA and universal constituents of metabolism. However, compatible prebiotic reactions for the synthesis of complementary (that is, base pairing) nucleotides and mechanisms for their mutual selection within a complex chemical environment have not been reported. Here we show that two plausible prebiotic heterocycles, melamine and barbituric acid, form glycosidic linkages with ribose and ribose-5-phosphate in water to produce nucleosides and nucleotides in good yields. Even without purification, these nucleotides base pair in aqueous solution to create linear supramolecular assemblies containing thousands of ordered nucleotides. Nucleotide anomerization and supramolecular assemblies favour the biologically relevant β-anomer form of these ribonucleotides, revealing abiotic mechanisms by which nucleotide structure and configuration could have been originally favoured. These findings indicate that nucleotide formation and selection may have been robust processes on the prebiotic Earth, if other nucleobases preceded those of extant life.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, RNA, Chemistry, Nucleoside, Nucleotide, Cytosine


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


We describe a novel single molecule nanopore-based sequencing by synthesis (Nano-SBS) strategy that can accurately distinguish four bases by detecting 4 different sized tags released from 5'-phosphate-modified nucleotides. The basic principle is as follows. As each nucleotide is incorporated into the growing DNA strand during the polymerase reaction, its tag is released and enters a nanopore in release order. This produces a unique ionic current blockade signature due to the tag’s distinct chemical structure, thereby determining DNA sequence electronically at single molecule level with single base resolution. As proof of principle, we attached four different length PEG-coumarin tags to the terminal phosphate of 2'-deoxyguanosine-5'-tetraphosphate. We demonstrate efficient, accurate incorporation of the nucleotide analogs during the polymerase reaction, and excellent discrimination among the four tags based on nanopore ionic currents. This approach coupled with polymerase attached to the nanopores in an array format should yield a single-molecule electronic Nano-SBS platform.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Adenosine triphosphate, RNA, Base pair, Phosphate, Nucleotide


Low-grade, chronic inflammation has been associated with many diseases of aging, but the mechanisms responsible for producing this inflammation remain unclear. Inflammasomes can drive chronic inflammation in the context of an infectious disease or cellular stress, and they trigger the maturation of interleukin-1β (IL-1β). Here we find that the expression of specific inflammasome gene modules stratifies older individuals into two extremes: those with constitutive expression of IL-1β, nucleotide metabolism dysfunction, elevated oxidative stress, high rates of hypertension and arterial stiffness; and those without constitutive expression of IL-1β, who lack these characteristics. Adenine and N(4)-acetylcytidine, nucleotide-derived metabolites that are detectable in the blood of the former group, prime and activate the NLRC4 inflammasome, induce the production of IL-1β, activate platelets and neutrophils and elevate blood pressure in mice. In individuals over 85 years of age, the elevated expression of inflammasome gene modules was associated with all-cause mortality. Thus, targeting inflammasome components may ameliorate chronic inflammation and various other age-associated conditions.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Infectious disease, Metabolism, Blood, Atherosclerosis, Infection, Nucleotide


Binding specificity of Cas9-guide RNA complexes to DNA is important for genome-engineering applications; however, how mismatches influence target recognition/rejection kinetics is not well understood. Here we used single-molecule FRET to probe real-time interactions between Cas9-RNA and DNA targets. The bimolecular association rate is only weakly dependent on sequence; however, the dissociation rate greatly increases from <0.006 s(-1) to >2 s(-1) upon introduction of mismatches proximal to protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM), demonstrating that mismatches encountered early during heteroduplex formation induce rapid rejection of off-target DNA. In contrast, PAM-distal mismatches up to 11 base pairs in length, which prevent DNA cleavage, still allow formation of a stable complex (dissociation rate <0.006 s(-1)), suggesting that extremely slow rejection could sequester Cas9-RNA, increasing the Cas9 expression level necessary for genome-editing, thereby aggravating off-target effects. We also observed at least two different bound FRET states that may represent distinct steps in target search and proofreading.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Transcription, Base pair, Nucleotide, Uracil, Reaction rate


In the ciliated protozoan Paramecium tetraurelia, Piwi-associated small RNAs are generated upon the elimination of tens of thousands of short transposon-derived DNA segments as part of development. These RNAs then target complementary DNA for elimination in a positive feedback process, contributing to germline defense and genome stability. In this work, we investigate the formation of these RNAs, which we show to be transcribed directly from the short (length mode 27 bp) excised DNA segments. Our data support a mechanism whereby the concatenation and circularization of excised DNA segments provides a template for RNA production. This process allows the generation of a double-stranded RNA for Dicer-like protein cleavage to give rise to a population of small regulatory RNAs that precisely match the excised DNA sequences. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Virus, Genome, RNA, Nucleotide, Non-coding RNA


We describe a self-assembling DNA-based nanosystem for interrogating molecular interactions. The nanosystem contains a rigid supporting dumbbell-shaped frame, a cylindrical central core, and a mobile ring that is coaxial with the core. Motion of the ring is influenced by several control elements whose force-generating capability is based on the transition of single-stranded DNA to double-stranded DNA. These forces can be directed to act in opposition to adhesive forces between the ring and the frame thereby providing a mechanism for molecular detection and interrogation at the ring-frame interface. As proof of principle we use this system to evaluate base stacking adhesion and demonstrate detection of a soluble nucleic acid viral genome mimic.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Human genome, Genome, Base pair, Nucleic acid, Nucleotide


Current genome-editing technologies introduce double-stranded (ds) DNA breaks at a target locus as the first step to gene correction. Although most genetic diseases arise from point mutations, current approaches to point mutation correction are inefficient and typically induce an abundance of random insertions and deletions (indels) at the target locus resulting from the cellular response to dsDNA breaks. Here we report the development of ‘base editing’, a new approach to genome editing that enables the direct, irreversible conversion of one target DNA base into another in a programmable manner, without requiring dsDNA backbone cleavage or a donor template. We engineered fusions of CRISPR/Cas9 and a cytidine deaminase enzyme that retain the ability to be programmed with a guide RNA, do not induce dsDNA breaks, and mediate the direct conversion of cytidine to uridine, thereby effecting a C→T (or G→A) substitution. The resulting ‘base editors’ convert cytidines within a window of approximately five nucleotides, and can efficiently correct a variety of point mutations relevant to human disease. In four transformed human and murine cell lines, second- and third-generation base editors that fuse uracil glycosylase inhibitor, and that use a Cas9 nickase targeting the non-edited strand, manipulate the cellular DNA repair response to favour desired base-editing outcomes, resulting in permanent correction of ~15-75% of total cellular DNA with minimal (typically ≤1%) indel formation. Base editing expands the scope and efficiency of genome editing of point mutations.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Genome, RNA, Base pair, Nucleotide