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

Concept: RNA


The MinION™ nanopore sequencer was recently released to a community of alpha-testers for evaluation using a variety of sequencing applications. Recent reports have tested the ability of the MinION™ to act as a whole genome sequencer and have demonstrated that nanopore sequencing has tremendous potential utility. However, the current nanopore technology still has limitations with respect to error-rate, and this is problematic when attempting to assemble whole genomes without secondary rounds of sequencing to correct errors. In this study, we tested the ability of the MinION™ nanopore sequencer to accurately identify and differentiate bacterial and viral samples via directed sequencing of characteristic genes shared broadly across a target clade.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Organism, Virus, Genome, RNA


Many new and emerging RNA and DNA viruses are zoonotic or have zoonotic origins in an animal reservoir that is usually mammalian and sometimes avian. Not all zoonotic viruses are transmissible (directly or by an arthropod vector) between human hosts. Virus genome sequence data provide the best evidence of transmission. Of human transmissible virus, 37 species have so far been restricted to self-limiting outbreaks. These viruses are priorities for surveillance because relatively minor changes in their epidemiologies can potentially lead to major changes in the threat they pose to public health. On the basis of comparisons across all recognized human viruses, we consider the characteristics of these priority viruses and assess the likelihood that they will further emerge in human populations. We also assess the likelihood that a virus that can infect humans but is not capable of transmission (directly or by a vector) between human hosts can acquire that capability.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Organism, Virus, Genome, RNA


Sepsis is a common cause of death in the intensive care unit with mortality up to 70% when accompanied by multiple organ dysfunction. Rapid diagnosis and the institution of appropriate antibiotic therapy and pressor support are therefore critical for survival. MicroRNAs are small non-coding RNAs that play an important role in the regulation of numerous cellular processes, including inflammation and immunity.

Concepts: DNA, Bacteria, RNA, Intensive care medicine, Sociology, Multiple organ dysfunction syndrome, Non-coding RNA, Sepsis


To define the cellular mechanisms of up-regulated inflammatory gene expression and down-regulated antiviral response in people experiencing perceived social isolation (loneliness), we conducted integrative analyses of leukocyte gene regulation in humans and rhesus macaques. Five longitudinal leukocyte transcriptome surveys in 141 older adults showed up-regulation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), monocyte population expansion, and up-regulation of the leukocyte conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA). Mechanistic analyses in a macaque model of perceived social isolation confirmed CTRA activation and identified selective up-regulation of the CD14(++)/CD16(-) classical monocyte transcriptome, functional glucocorticoid desensitization, down-regulation of Type I and II interferons, and impaired response to infection by simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). These analyses identify neuroendocrine-related alterations in myeloid cell population dynamics as a key mediator of CTRA transcriptome skewing, which may both propagate perceived social isolation and contribute to its associated health risks.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Virus, RNA, Primate, Rhesus Macaque


Eukaryotes have two types of spliceosomes, comprised of either major (U1, U2, U4, U5, U6) or minor (U11, U12, U4atac, U6atac; <1%) snRNPs. The high conservation of minor introns, typically one amidst many major introns in several hundred genes, despite their poor splicing, has been a long-standing enigma. Here, we discovered that the low abundance minor spliceosome's catalytic snRNP, U6atac, is strikingly unstable (t½<2 hr). We show that U6atac level depends on both RNA polymerases II and III and can be rapidly increased by cell stress-activated kinase p38MAPK, which stabilizes it, enhancing mRNA expression of hundreds of minor intron-containing genes that are otherwise suppressed by limiting U6atac. Furthermore, p38MAPK-dependent U6atac modulation can control minor intron-containing tumor suppressor PTEN expression and cytokine production. We propose that minor introns are embedded molecular switches regulated by U6atac abundance, providing a novel post-transcriptional gene expression mechanism and a rationale for the minor spliceosome's evolutionary conservation. DOI:

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell nucleus, Gene expression, RNA, Messenger RNA, Spliceosome, RNA splicing


Cognitive abilities and disorders unique to humans are thought to result from adaptively driven changes in brain transcriptomes, but little is known about the role of cis-regulatory changes affecting transcription start sites (TSS). Here, we mapped in human, chimpanzee, and macaque prefrontal cortex the genome-wide distribution of histone H3 trimethylated at lysine 4 (H3K4me3), an epigenetic mark sharply regulated at TSS, and identified 471 sequences with human-specific enrichment or depletion. Among these were 33 loci selectively methylated in neuronal but not non-neuronal chromatin from children and adults, including TSS at DPP10 (2q14.1), CNTN4 and CHL1 (3p26.3), and other neuropsychiatric susceptibility genes. Regulatory sequences at DPP10 and additional loci carried a strong footprint of hominid adaptation, including elevated nucleotide substitution rates and regulatory motifs absent in other primates (including archaic hominins), with evidence for selective pressures during more recent evolution and adaptive fixations in modern populations. Chromosome conformation capture at two neurodevelopmental disease loci, 2q14.1 and 16p11.2, revealed higher order chromatin structures resulting in physical contact of multiple human-specific H3K4me3 peaks spaced 0.5-1 Mb apart, in conjunction with a novel cis-bound antisense RNA linked to Polycomb repressor proteins and downregulated DPP10 expression. Therefore, coordinated epigenetic regulation via newly derived TSS chromatin could play an important role in the emergence of human-specific gene expression networks in brain that contribute to cognitive functions and neurological disease susceptibility in modern day humans.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Brain, Histone, Epigenetics, RNA


Purely in vitro ribosome synthesis could provide a critical step towards unraveling the systems biology of ribosome biogenesis, constructing minimal cells from defined components, and engineering ribosomes with new functions. Here, as an initial step towards this goal, we report a method for constructing Escherichia coli ribosomes in crude S150 E. coli extracts. While conventional methods for E. coli ribosome reconstitution are non-physiological, our approach attempts to mimic chemical conditions in the cytoplasm, thus permitting several biological processes to occur simultaneously. Specifically, our integrated synthesis, assembly, and translation (iSAT) technology enables one-step co-activation of rRNA transcription, assembly of transcribed rRNA with native ribosomal proteins into functional ribosomes, and synthesis of active protein by these ribosomes in the same compartment. We show that iSAT makes possible the in vitro construction of modified ribosomes by introducing a 23S rRNA mutation that mediates resistance against clindamycin. We anticipate that iSAT will aid studies of ribosome assembly and open new avenues for making ribosomes with altered properties.

Concepts: Protein, Gene, RNA, Ribosomal RNA, Ribosome, Messenger RNA, Protein biosynthesis, Translation


Decoding post-transcriptional regulatory programs in RNA is a critical step towards the larger goal of developing predictive dynamical models of cellular behaviour. Despite recent efforts, the vast landscape of RNA regulatory elements remains largely uncharacterized. A long-standing obstacle is the contribution of local RNA secondary structure to the definition of interaction partners in a variety of regulatory contexts, including–but not limited to–transcript stability, alternative splicing and localization. There are many documented instances where the presence of a structural regulatory element dictates alternative splicing patterns (for example, human cardiac troponin T) or affects other aspects of RNA biology. Thus, a full characterization of post-transcriptional regulatory programs requires capturing information provided by both local secondary structures and the underlying sequence. Here we present a computational framework based on context-free grammars and mutual information that systematically explores the immense space of small structural elements and reveals motifs that are significantly informative of genome-wide measurements of RNA behaviour. By applying this framework to genome-wide human mRNA stability data, we reveal eight highly significant elements with substantial structural information, for the strongest of which we show a major role in global mRNA regulation. Through biochemistry, mass spectrometry and in vivo binding studies, we identified human HNRPA2B1 (heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein A2/B1, also known as HNRNPA2B1) as the key regulator that binds this element and stabilizes a large number of its target genes. We created a global post-transcriptional regulatory map based on the identity of the discovered linear and structural cis-regulatory elements, their regulatory interactions and their target pathways. This approach could also be used to reveal the structural elements that modulate other aspects of RNA behaviour.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, RNA, Secondary structure, Messenger RNA, Intron, RNA splicing, Cis-regulatory element


The 20th annual Database Issue of Nucleic Acids Research includes 176 articles, half of which describe new online molecular biology databases and the other half provide updates on the databases previously featured in NAR and other journals. This year’s highlights include two databases of DNA repeat elements; several databases of transcriptional factors and transcriptional factor-binding sites; databases on various aspects of protein structure and protein-protein interactions; databases for metagenomic and rRNA sequence analysis; and four databases specifically dedicated to Escherichia coli. The increased emphasis on using the genome data to improve human health is reflected in the development of the databases of genomic structural variation (NCBI’s dbVar and EBI’s DGVa), the NIH Genetic Testing Registry and several other databases centered on the genetic basis of human disease, potential drugs, their targets and the mechanisms of protein-ligand binding. Two new databases present genomic and RNAseq data for monkeys, providing wealth of data on our closest relatives for comparative genomics purposes. The NAR online Molecular Biology Database Collection, available at, has been updated and currently lists 1512 online databases. The full content of the Database Issue is freely available online on the Nucleic Acids Research website (

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Molecular biology, RNA, Genomics


Evolutionarily conserved RNA secondary structures are a robust indicator of purifying selection and, consequently, molecular function. Evaluating their genome-wide occurrence through comparative genomics has consistently been plagued by high false-positive rates and divergent predictions. We present a novel benchmarking pipeline aimed at calibrating the precision of genome-wide scans for consensus RNA structure prediction. The benchmarking data obtained from two refined structure prediction algorithms, RNAz and SISSIz, were then analyzed to fine-tune the parameters of an optimized workflow for genomic sliding window screens. When applied to consistency-based multiple genome alignments of 35 mammals, our approach confidently identifies >4 million evolutionarily constrained RNA structures using a conservative sensitivity threshold that entails historically low false discovery rates for such analyses (5-22%). These predictions comprise 13.6% of the human genome, 88% of which fall outside any known sequence-constrained element, suggesting that a large proportion of the mammalian genome is functional. As an example, our findings identify both known and novel conserved RNA structure motifs in the long noncoding RNA MALAT1. This study provides an extensive set of functional transcriptomic annotations that will assist researchers in uncovering the precise mechanisms underlying the developmental ontologies of higher eukaryotes.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Human Genome Project, Genome, RNA, Genomics, Non-coding RNA