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Journal: Genes


Dietary alteration of the gut microbiome is an important target in the treatment of obesity. Animal and human studies have shown bidirectional weight modulation based on the probiotic formulation used. In this study, we systematically reviewed the literature and performed a meta-analysis to assess the impact of prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics on body weight, body mass index (BMI) and fat mass in adult human subjects. We searched Medline (PubMed), Embase, the Cochrane Library and the Web of Science to identify 4721 articles, of which 41 were subjected to full-text screening, yielding 21 included studies with 33 study arms. Probiotic use was associated with significant decreases in BMI, weight and fat mass. Studies of subjects consuming prebiotics demonstrated a significant reduction in body weight, whereas synbiotics did not show an effect. Overall, when the utilization of gut microbiome-modulating dietary agents (prebiotic/probiotic/synbiotic) was compared to placebo, there were significant decreases in BMI, weight and fat mass. In summary, dietary agents for the modulation of the gut microbiome are essential tools in the treatment of obesity and can lead to significant decreases in BMI, weight and fat mass. Further studies are needed to identify the ideal dose and duration of supplementation and to assess the durability of this effect.

Concepts: Nutrition, Obesity, Evidence-based medicine, Cochrane Library, Mass, Body mass index, MEDLINE, Body shape


Human activities significantly affect all ecosystems on the planet, including the assemblages that comprise our own microbiota. Over the last five million years, various evolutionary and ecological drivers have altered the composition of the human microbiota, including the use of fire, the invention of agriculture, and the increasing availability of processed foods after the Industrial Revolution. However, no factor has had a faster or more direct effect than antimicrobial agents. Biocides, disinfectants and antibiotics select for individual cells that carry resistance genes, immediately reducing both overall microbial diversity and within-species genetic diversity. Treated individuals may never recover their original diversity, and repeated treatments lead to a series of genetic bottlenecks. The sequential introduction of diverse antimicrobial agents has selected for increasingly complex DNA elements that carry multiple resistance genes, and has fostered their spread through the human microbiota. Practices that interfere with microbial colonization, such as sanitation, Caesarian births and bottle-feeding, exacerbate the effects of antimicrobials, generating species-poor and less resilient microbial assemblages in the developed world. More and more evidence is accumulating that these perturbations to our internal ecosystems lie at the heart of many diseases whose frequency has shown a dramatic increase over the last half century.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Biodiversity, Evolution, Organism, Species, Ecology, Antimicrobial


The metal-specific CzcRS two-component system in Pseudomonas aeruginosa is involved in the repression of the OprD porin, causing in turn carbapenem antibiotic resistance in the presence of high zinc concentration. It has also been shown that CzcR is able to directly regulate the expression of multiple genes including virulence factors. CzcR is therefore an important regulator connecting (i) metal response, (ii) pathogenicity and (iii) antibiotic resistance in P. aeruginosa. Recent data have suggested that other regulators could negatively control oprD expression in the presence of zinc. Here we show that the RNA chaperone Hfq is a key factor acting independently of CzcR for the repression of oprD upon Zn treatment. Additionally, we found that an Hfq-dependent mechanism is necessary for the localization of CzcR to the oprD promoter, mediating oprD transcriptional repression. Furthermore, in the presence of Cu, CopR, the transcriptional regulator of the CopRS two-component system also requires Hfq for oprD repression. Altogether, these results suggest important roles for this RNA chaperone in the context of environment-sensing and antibiotic resistance in P. aeruginosa.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Antibiotic resistance, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, RNA polymerase, Pseudomonas


Ancient DNA (aDNA) has the ability to inform the evolutionary history of both extant and extinct taxa; however, the use of aDNA in the study of avian evolution is lacking in comparison to other vertebrates, despite birds being one of the most species-rich vertebrate classes. Here, we review the field of “avian ancient DNA” by summarising the past three decades of literature on this topic. Most studies over this time have used avian aDNA to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships and clarify taxonomy based on the sequencing of a few mitochondrial loci, but recent studies are moving toward using a comparative genomics approach to address developmental and functional questions. Applying aDNA analysis with more practical outcomes in mind (such as managing conservation) is another increasingly popular trend among studies that utilise avian aDNA, but the majority of these have yet to influence management policy. We find that while there have been advances in extracting aDNA from a variety of avian substrates including eggshell, feathers, and coprolites, there is a bias in the temporal focus; the majority of the ca. 150 studies reviewed here obtained aDNA from late Holocene (100-1000 yBP) material, with few studies investigating Pleistocene-aged material. In addition, we identify and discuss several other issues within the field that require future attention. With more than one quarter of Holocene bird extinctions occurring in the last several hundred years, it is more important than ever to understand the mechanisms driving the evolution and extinction of bird species through the use of aDNA.

Concepts: DNA, Conservation biology, Evolution, Bird, Evolutionary biology, Phylogenetic tree, Extinction, Dinosaur


In order to characterize the female or male transcriptome of the Pacific abalone and further increase genomic resources, we sequenced the mRNA of full-length complementary DNA (cDNA) libraries derived from pooled tissues of female and male Haliotis discus hannai by employing the Iso-Seq protocol of the PacBio RSII platform. We successfully assembled whole full-length cDNA sequences and constructed a transcriptome database that included isoform information. After clustering, a total of 15,110 and 12,145 genes that coded for proteins were identified in female and male abalones, respectively. A total of 13,057 putative orthologs were retained from each transcriptome in abalones. Overall Gene Ontology terms and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) pathways analyzed in each database showed a similar composition between sexes. In addition, a total of 519 and 391 isoforms were genome-widely identified with at least two isoforms from female and male transcriptome databases. We found that the number of isoforms and their alternatively spliced patterns are variable and sex-dependent. This information represents the first significant contribution to sex-preferential genomic resources of the Pacific abalone. The availability of whole female and male transcriptome database and their isoform information will be useful to improve our understanding of molecular responses and also for the analysis of population dynamics in the Pacific abalone.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Transcription, Molecular biology, RNA, RNA splicing


The northern sea otter inhabits coastal waters of the northern Pacific Ocean and is the largest member of the Mustelidae family. DNA sequencing methods that utilize microfluidic partitioned and non-partitioned library construction were used to establish the sea otter genome. The final assembly provided 2.426 Gbp of highly contiguous assembled genomic sequences with a scaffold N50 length of over 38 Mbp. We generated transcriptome data derived from a lymphoma to aid in the determination of functional elements. The assembled genome sequence and underlying sequence data are available at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) under the BioProject accession number PRJNA388419.

Concepts: DNA, Human Genome Project, Genome, Sequence, Pacific Ocean, Mustelidae, Sea otter, Otter


A high-quality reference genome is a fundamental resource for functional genetics, comparative genomics, and population genomics, and is increasingly important for conservation biology. PacBio Single Molecule, Real-Time (SMRT) sequencing generates long reads with uniform coverage and high consensus accuracy, making it a powerful technology for de novo genome assembly. Improvements in throughput and concomitant reductions in cost have made PacBio an attractive core technology for many large genome initiatives, however, relatively high DNA input requirements (~5 µg for standard library protocol) have placed PacBio out of reach for many projects on small organisms that have lower DNA content, or on projects with limited input DNA for other reasons. Here we present a high-quality de novo genome assembly from a single Anopheles coluzzii mosquito. A modified SMRTbell library construction protocol without DNA shearing and size selection was used to generate a SMRTbell library from just 100 ng of starting genomic DNA. The sample was run on the Sequel System with chemistry 3.0 and software v6.0, generating, on average, 25 Gb of sequence per SMRT Cell with 20 h movies, followed by diploid de novo genome assembly with FALCON-Unzip. The resulting curated assembly had high contiguity (contig N50 3.5 Mb) and completeness (more than 98% of conserved genes were present and full-length). In addition, this single-insect assembly now places 667 (>90%) of formerly unplaced genes into their appropriate chromosomal contexts in the AgamP4 PEST reference. We were also able to resolve maternal and paternal haplotypes for over 1/3 of the genome. By sequencing and assembling material from a single diploid individual, only two haplotypes were present, simplifying the assembly process compared to samples from multiple pooled individuals. The method presented here can be applied to samples with starting DNA amounts as low as 100 ng per 1 Gb genome size. This new low-input approach puts PacBio-based assemblies in reach for small highly heterozygous organisms that comprise much of the diversity of life.


The giant panda was widely distributed in China and south-eastern Asia during the middle to late Pleistocene, prior to its habitat becoming rapidly reduced in the Holocene. While conservation reserves have been established and population numbers of the giant panda have recently increased, the interpretation of its genetic diversity remains controversial. Previous analyses, surprisingly, have indicated relatively high levels of genetic diversity raising issues concerning the efficiency and usefulness of reintroducing individuals from captive populations. However, due to a lack of DNA data from fossil specimens, it is unknown whether genetic diversity was even higher prior to the most recent population decline. We amplified complete cytb and 12s rRNA, partial 16s rRNA and ND1, and control region sequences from the mitochondrial genomes of two Holocene panda specimens. We estimated genetic diversity and population demography by analyzing the ancient mitochondrial DNA sequences alongside those from modern giant pandas, as well as from other members of the bear family (Ursidae). Phylogenetic analyses show that one of the ancient haplotypes is sister to all sampled modern pandas and the second ancient individual is nested among the modern haplotypes, suggesting that genetic diversity may indeed have been higher earlier during the Holocene. Bayesian skyline plot analysis supports this view and indicates a slight decline in female effective population size starting around 6000 years B.P., followed by a recovery around 2000 years ago. Therefore, while the genetic diversity of the giant panda has been affected by recent habitat contraction, it still harbors substantial genetic diversity. Moreover, while its still low population numbers require continued conservation efforts, there seem to be no immediate threats from the perspective of genetic evolutionary potential.

Concepts: DNA, Demography, Population genetics, Giant Panda, Carnivora, Bear, Ailuropoda, Qinling Panda


The use of non-human animals in research is a longstanding practice to help us understand and improve human biology and health. Animal models allow researchers, for example, to carefully manipulate environmental factors in order to understand how they contribute to development, behavior, and health. In the field of behavioral epigenetics such approaches have contributed novel findings of how the environment physically interacts with our genes, leading to changes in behavior and health. This review highlights some of this research, focused on prenatal immune challenges, environmental toxicants, diet, and early-life stress. In conjunction, we also discuss why animal models were integral to these discoveries and the translational relevance of these discoveries.


Mitochondrial dysfunction is a central event in many pathologies and contributes as well to age-related processes. However, distinguishing between primary mitochondrial dysfunction driving aging and a secondary mitochondrial impairment resulting from other cell alterations remains challenging. Indeed, even though mitochondria undeniably play a crucial role in aging pathways at the cellular and organismal level, the original hypothesis in which mitochondrial dysfunction and production of free radicals represent the main driving force of cell degeneration has been strongly challenged. In this review, we will first describe mitochondrial dysfunctions observed in aged tissue, and how these features have been linked to mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS)-mediated cell damage and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations. We will also discuss the clues that led to consider mitochondria as the starting point in the aging process, and how recent research has showed that the mitochondria aging axis represents instead a more complex and multifactorial signaling pathway. New working hypothesis will be also presented in which mitochondria are considered at the center of a complex web of cell dysfunctions that eventually leads to cell senescence and death.

Concepts: DNA, Oxygen, Bacteria, Death, Senescence, Mitochondrion, Reactive oxygen species, Ageing