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Concept: Organism


Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages world-wide and one of the primary sources of caffeine intake. Given its important health and economic impact, the underlying genetics of its consumption has been widely studied. Despite these efforts, much has still to be uncovered. In particular, the use of non-additive genetic models may uncover new information about the genetic variants driving coffee consumption. We have conducted a genome-wide association study in two Italian populations using additive, recessive and dominant models for analysis. This has uncovered a significant association in the PDSS2 gene under the recessive model that has been replicated in an independent cohort from the Netherlands (ERF). The identified gene has been shown to negatively regulate the expression of the caffeine metabolism genes and can thus be linked to coffee consumption. Further bioinformatics analysis of eQTL and histone marks from Roadmap data has evidenced a possible role of the identified SNPs in regulating PDSS2 gene expression through enhancers present in its intron. Our results highlight a novel gene which regulates coffee consumption by regulating the expression of the genes linked to caffeine metabolism. Further studies will be needed to clarify the biological mechanism which links PDSS2 and coffee consumption.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Bacteria, Transcription, Biology, Organism


Dispersal of microbes between humans and the built environment can occur through direct contact with surfaces or through airborne release; the latter mechanism remains poorly understood. Humans emit upwards of 10(6) biological particles per hour, and have long been known to transmit pathogens to other individuals and to indoor surfaces. However it has not previously been demonstrated that humans emit a detectible microbial cloud into surrounding indoor air, nor whether such clouds are sufficiently differentiated to allow the identification of individual occupants. We used high-throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA genes to characterize the airborne bacterial contribution of a single person sitting in a sanitized custom experimental climate chamber. We compared that to air sampled in an adjacent, identical, unoccupied chamber, as well as to supply and exhaust air sources. Additionally, we assessed microbial communities in settled particles surrounding each occupant, to investigate the potential long-term fate of airborne microbial emissions. Most occupants could be clearly detected by their airborne bacterial emissions, as well as their contribution to settled particles, within 1.5-4 h. Bacterial clouds from the occupants were statistically distinct, allowing the identification of some individual occupants. Our results confirm that an occupied space is microbially distinct from an unoccupied one, and demonstrate for the first time that individuals release their own personalized microbial cloud.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Microbiology, Ribosomal RNA, Biotechnology, 16S ribosomal RNA, Microorganism


We review the salient evidence consistent with or predicted by the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe (H- W) thesis of Cometary (Cosmic) Biology. Much of this physical and biological evidence is multifactorial. One particular focus are the recent studies which date the emergence of the complex retroviruses of vertebrate lines at or just before the Cambrian Explosion of ∼500 Ma. Such viruses are known to be plausibly associated with major evolutionary genomic processes. We believe this coincidence is not fortuitous but is consistent with a key prediction of H-W theory whereby major extinction-diversification evolutionary boundaries coincide with virus-bearing cometary-bolide bombardment events. A second focus is the remarkable evolution of intelligent complexity (Cephalopods) culminating in the emergence of the Octopus. A third focus concerns the micro-organism fossil evidence contained within meteorites as well as the detection in the upper atmosphere of apparent incoming life-bearing particles from space. In our view the totality of the multifactorial data and critical analyses assembled by Fred Hoyle, Chandra Wickramasinghe and their many colleagues since the 1960s leads to a very plausible conclusion - life may have been seeded here on Earth by life-bearing comets as soon as conditions on Earth allowed it to flourish (about or just before 4.1 Billion years ago); and living organisms such as space-resistant and space-hardy bacteria, viruses, more complex eukaryotic cells, fertilised ova and seeds have been continuously delivered ever since to Earth so being one important driver of further terrestrial evolution which has resulted in considerable genetic diversity and which has led to the emergence of mankind.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Evolution, Organism, Species, Paleontology


Herbal products available to consumers in the marketplace may be contaminated or substituted with alternative plant species and fillers that are not listed on the labels. According to the World Health Organization, the adulteration of herbal products is a threat to consumer safety. Our research aimed to investigate herbal product integrity and authenticity with the goal of protecting consumers from health risks associated with product substitution and contamination.

Concepts: Organism, Species, Herbalism, DNA barcoding, World Health Organization, Herbal, Consumer protection, Consumer


Scaling laws underpin unifying theories of biodiversity and are among the most predictively powerful relationships in biology. However, scaling laws developed for plants and animals often go untested or fail to hold for microorganisms. As a result, it is unclear whether scaling laws of biodiversity will span evolutionarily distant domains of life that encompass all modes of metabolism and scales of abundance. Using a global-scale compilation of ∼35,000 sites and ∼5.6⋅10(6) species, including the largest ever inventory of high-throughput molecular data and one of the largest compilations of plant and animal community data, we show similar rates of scaling in commonness and rarity across microorganisms and macroscopic plants and animals. We document a universal dominance scaling law that holds across 30 orders of magnitude, an unprecedented expanse that predicts the abundance of dominant ocean bacteria. In combining this scaling law with the lognormal model of biodiversity, we predict that Earth is home to upward of 1 trillion (10(12)) microbial species. Microbial biodiversity seems greater than ever anticipated yet predictable from the smallest to the largest microbiome.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Life, Eukaryote, Species, Microorganism


Lake Vostok, the 7(th) largest (by volume) and 4(th) deepest lake on Earth, is covered by more than 3,700 m of ice, making it the largest subglacial lake known. The combination of cold, heat (from possible hydrothermal activity), pressure (from the overriding glacier), limited nutrients and complete darkness presents extreme challenges to life. Here, we report metagenomic/metatranscriptomic sequence analyses from four accretion ice sections from the Vostok 5G ice core. Two sections accreted in the vicinity of an embayment on the southwestern end of the lake, and the other two represented part of the southern main basin. We obtained 3,507 unique gene sequences from concentrates of 500 ml of 0.22 µm-filtered accretion ice meltwater. Taxonomic classifications (to genus and/or species) were possible for 1,623 of the sequences. Species determinations in combination with mRNA gene sequence results allowed deduction of the metabolic pathways represented in the accretion ice and, by extension, in the lake. Approximately 94% of the sequences were from Bacteria and 6% were from Eukarya. Only two sequences were from Archaea. In general, the taxa were similar to organisms previously described from lakes, brackish water, marine environments, soil, glaciers, ice, lake sediments, deep-sea sediments, deep-sea thermal vents, animals and plants. Sequences from aerobic, anaerobic, psychrophilic, thermophilic, halophilic, alkaliphilic, acidophilic, desiccation-resistant, autotrophic and heterotrophic organisms were present, including a number from multicellular eukaryotes.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell, Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Species, Antarctica


Females have generally more robust immune responses than males for reasons that are not well-understood. Here we used a systems analysis to investigate these differences by analyzing the neutralizing antibody response to a trivalent inactivated seasonal influenza vaccine (TIV) and a large number of immune system components, including serum cytokines and chemokines, blood cell subset frequencies, genome-wide gene expression, and cellular responses to diverse in vitro stimuli, in 53 females and 34 males of different ages. We found elevated antibody responses to TIV and expression of inflammatory cytokines in the serum of females compared with males regardless of age. This inflammatory profile correlated with the levels of phosphorylated STAT3 proteins in monocytes but not with the serological response to the vaccine. In contrast, using a machine learning approach, we identified a cluster of genes involved in lipid biosynthesis and previously shown to be up-regulated by testosterone that correlated with poor virus-neutralizing activity in men. Moreover, men with elevated serum testosterone levels and associated gene signatures exhibited the lowest antibody responses to TIV. These results demonstrate a strong association between androgens and genes involved in lipid metabolism, suggesting that these could be important drivers of the differences in immune responses between males and females.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Protein, Bacteria, Organism, Vaccine, Vaccination, Immunology


Epidemiological and genetic association studies show that genetics play an important role in the attainment of education. Here, we investigate the effect of this genetic component on the reproductive history of 109,120 Icelanders and the consequent impact on the gene pool over time. We show that an educational attainment polygenic score, POLYEDU, constructed from results of a recent study is associated with delayed reproduction (P < 10(-100)) and fewer children overall. The effect is stronger for women and remains highly significant after adjusting for educational attainment. Based on 129,808 Icelanders born between 1910 and 1990, we find that the average POLYEDU has been declining at a rate of ∼0.010 standard units per decade, which is substantial on an evolutionary timescale. Most importantly, because POLYEDU only captures a fraction of the overall underlying genetic component the latter could be declining at a rate that is two to three times faster.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Biology, Organism, Genome, Classical genetics, Genetic association


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


Modern whole-organism genome analysis, in combination with biomass estimates, allows us to estimate a lower bound on the total information content in the biosphere: 5.3 × 1031 (±3.6 × 1031) megabases (Mb) of DNA. Given conservative estimates regarding DNA transcription rates, this information content suggests biosphere processing speeds exceeding yottaNOPS values (1024 Nucleotide Operations Per Second). Although prokaryotes evolved at least 3 billion years before plants and animals, we find that the information content of prokaryotes is similar to plants and animals at the present day. This information-based approach offers a new way to quantify anthropogenic and natural processes in the biosphere and its information diversity over time.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Archaea, Organism, RNA, Base pair