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

Journal: Cell


The 2013-2016 outbreak of Ebola virus (EBOV) in West Africa was the largest recorded. It began following the cross-species transmission of EBOV from an animal reservoir, most likely bats, into humans, with phylogenetic analysis revealing the co-circulation of several viral lineages. We hypothesized that this prolonged human circulation led to genomic changes that increased viral transmissibility in humans. We generated a synthetic glycoprotein (GP) construct based on the earliest reported isolate and introduced amino acid substitutions that defined viral lineages. Mutant GPs were used to generate a panel of pseudoviruses, which were used to infect different human and bat cell lines. These data revealed that specific amino acid substitutions in the EBOV GP have increased tropism for human cells, while reducing tropism for bat cells. Such increased infectivity may have enhanced the ability of EBOV to transmit among humans and contributed to the wide geographic distribution of some viral lineages.

Concepts: Protein, Gene, Genetics, Human, Amino acid, Africa, Mammal, Primate


Deep sequencing now provides detailed snapshots of ribosome occupancy on mRNAs. We leverage these data to parameterize a computational model of translation, keeping track of every ribosome, tRNA, and mRNA molecule in a yeast cell. We determine the parameter regimes in which fast initiation or high codon bias in a transgene increases protein yield and infer the initiation rates of endogenous Saccharomyces cerevisiae genes, which vary by several orders of magnitude and correlate with 5' mRNA folding energies. Our model recapitulates the previously reported 5'-to-3' ramp of decreasing ribosome densities, although our analysis shows that this ramp is caused by rapid initiation of short genes rather than slow codons at the start of transcripts. We conclude that protein production in healthy yeast cells is typically limited by the availability of free ribosomes, whereas protein production under periods of stress can sometimes be rescued by reducing initiation or elongation rates.

Concepts: Protein, Cell nucleus, RNA, Ribosome, Yeast, Messenger RNA, Protein biosynthesis, Genetic code


Cancer develops as a result of somatic mutation and clonal selection, but quantitative measures of selection in cancer evolution are lacking. We adapted methods from molecular evolution and applied them to 7,664 tumors across 29 cancer types. Unlike species evolution, positive selection outweighs negative selection during cancer development. On average, <1 coding base substitution/tumor is lost through negative selection, with purifying selection almost absent outside homozygous loss of essential genes. This allows exome-wide enumeration of all driver coding mutations, including outside known cancer genes. On average, tumors carry ∼4 coding substitutions under positive selection, ranging from <1/tumor in thyroid and testicular cancers to >10/tumor in endometrial and colorectal cancers. Half of driver substitutions occur in yet-to-be-discovered cancer genes. With increasing mutation burden, numbers of driver mutations increase, but not linearly. We systematically catalog cancer genes and show that genes vary extensively in what proportion of mutations are drivers versus passengers.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Genetics, Cancer, Mutation, Natural selection, Evolution, DNA repair


Interspecies blastocyst complementation enables organ-specific enrichment of xenogenic pluripotent stem cell (PSC) derivatives. Here, we establish a versatile blastocyst complementation platform based on CRISPR-Cas9-mediated zygote genome editing and show enrichment of rat PSC-derivatives in several tissues of gene-edited organogenesis-disabled mice. Besides gaining insights into species evolution, embryogenesis, and human disease, interspecies blastocyst complementation might allow human organ generation in animals whose organ size, anatomy, and physiology are closer to humans. To date, however, whether human PSCs (hPSCs) can contribute to chimera formation in non-rodent species remains unknown. We systematically evaluate the chimeric competency of several types of hPSCs using a more diversified clade of mammals, the ungulates. We find that naïve hPSCs robustly engraft in both pig and cattle pre-implantation blastocysts but show limited contribution to post-implantation pig embryos. Instead, an intermediate hPSC type exhibits higher degree of chimerism and is able to generate differentiated progenies in post-implantation pig embryos.

Concepts: Cell, Developmental biology, Stem cell, Mammal, Human anatomy, Induced pluripotent stem cell, Pluripotency, Inner cell mass


Conjugative pili are widespread bacterial appendages that play important roles in horizontal gene transfer, in spread of antibiotic resistance genes, and as sites of phage attachment. Among conjugative pili, the F “sex” pilus encoded by the F plasmid is the best functionally characterized, and it is also historically the most important, as the discovery of F-plasmid-mediated conjugation ushered in the era of molecular biology and genetics. Yet, its structure is unknown. Here, we present atomic models of two F family pili, the F and pED208 pili, generated from cryoelectron microscopy reconstructions at 5.0 and 3.6 Å resolution, respectively. These structures reveal that conjugative pili are assemblies of stoichiometric protein-phospholipid units. We further demonstrate that each pilus type binds preferentially to particular phospholipids. These structures provide the molecular basis for F pilus assembly and also shed light on the remarkable properties of conjugative pili in bacterial secretion and phage infection.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Bacteria, Molecular biology, Microbiology, Antibiotic resistance, Bacterial conjugation, Pilus


Trained innate immunity fosters a sustained favorable response of myeloid cells to a secondary challenge, despite their short lifespan in circulation. We thus hypothesized that trained immunity acts via modulation of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs). Administration of β-glucan (prototypical trained-immunity-inducing agonist) to mice induced expansion of progenitors of the myeloid lineage, which was associated with elevated signaling by innate immune mediators, such as IL-1β and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), and with adaptations in glucose metabolism and cholesterol biosynthesis. The trained-immunity-related increase in myelopoiesis resulted in a beneficial response to secondary LPS challenge and protection from chemotherapy-induced myelosuppression in mice. Therefore, modulation of myeloid progenitors in the bone marrow is an integral component of trained immunity, which to date, was considered to involve functional changes of mature myeloid cells in the periphery.

Concepts: Immune system, Adenosine triphosphate, Bone marrow, Innate immune system, Immunology, Immunity, Hematology, Hematopoietic stem cell


Methods for the targeted disruption of protein function have revolutionized science and greatly expedited the systematic characterization of genes. Two main approaches are currently used to disrupt protein function: DNA knockout and RNA interference, which act at the genome and mRNA level, respectively. A method that directly alters endogenous protein levels is currently not available. Here, we present Trim-Away, a technique to degrade endogenous proteins acutely in mammalian cells without prior modification of the genome or mRNA. Trim-Away harnesses the cellular protein degradation machinery to remove unmodified native proteins within minutes of application. This rapidity minimizes the risk that phenotypes are compensated and that secondary, non-specific defects accumulate over time. Because Trim-Away utilizes antibodies, it can be applied to a wide range of target proteins using off-the-shelf reagents. Trim-Away allows the study of protein function in diverse cell types, including non-dividing primary cells where genome- and RNA-targeting methods are limited.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Cell nucleus, Cell, Virus, RNA, Ribosome


Elevated postprandial blood glucose levels constitute a global epidemic and a major risk factor for prediabetes and type II diabetes, but existing dietary methods for controlling them have limited efficacy. Here, we continuously monitored week-long glucose levels in an 800-person cohort, measured responses to 46,898 meals, and found high variability in the response to identical meals, suggesting that universal dietary recommendations may have limited utility. We devised a machine-learning algorithm that integrates blood parameters, dietary habits, anthropometrics, physical activity, and gut microbiota measured in this cohort and showed that it accurately predicts personalized postprandial glycemic response to real-life meals. We validated these predictions in an independent 100-person cohort. Finally, a blinded randomized controlled dietary intervention based on this algorithm resulted in significantly lower postprandial responses and consistent alterations to gut microbiota configuration. Together, our results suggest that personalized diets may successfully modify elevated postprandial blood glucose and its metabolic consequences. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Concepts: Protein, Nutrition, Diabetes mellitus, Obesity, Diabetes, Blood sugar, Fat, Carbohydrate


The motivation to seek social contact may arise from either positive or negative emotional states, as social interaction can be rewarding and social isolation can be aversive. While ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine (DA) neurons may mediate social reward, a cellular substrate for the negative affective state of loneliness has remained elusive. Here, we identify a functional role for DA neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN), in which we observe synaptic changes following acute social isolation. DRN DA neurons show increased activity upon social contact following isolation, revealed by in vivo calcium imaging. Optogenetic activation of DRN DA neurons increases social preference but causes place avoidance. Furthermore, these neurons are necessary for promoting rebound sociability following an acute period of isolation. Finally, the degree to which these neurons modulate behavior is predicted by social rank, together supporting a role for DRN dopamine neurons in mediating a loneliness-like state. PAPERCLIP.

Concepts: Ventral tegmental area, Sociology, Motivation, Emotion, Dopamine, Social relation, Reward system, Raphe nuclei


Identifying molecular cancer drivers is critical for precision oncology. Multiple advanced algorithms to identify drivers now exist, but systematic attempts to combine and optimize them on large datasets are few. We report a PanCancer and PanSoftware analysis spanning 9,423 tumor exomes (comprising all 33 of The Cancer Genome Atlas projects) and using 26 computational tools to catalog driver genes and mutations. We identify 299 driver genes with implications regarding their anatomical sites and cancer/cell types. Sequence- and structure-based analyses identified >3,400 putative missense driver mutations supported by multiple lines of evidence. Experimental validation confirmed 60%-85% of predicted mutations as likely drivers. We found that >300 MSI tumors are associated with high PD-1/PD-L1, and 57% of tumors analyzed harbor putative clinically actionable events. Our study represents the most comprehensive discovery of cancer genes and mutations to date and will serve as a blueprint for future biological and clinical endeavors.

Concepts: DNA, Cancer, Mutation, Oncology, Biology, Tumor, Neoplasm, The Cancer Genome Atlas