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Journal: Genes


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


Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most common monogenetic cause of intellectual disability. The cognitive deficits in the mouse model for this disorder, the Fragile X Mental Retardation 1 (Fmr1) knockout (KO) mouse, have been restored by different pharmacological approaches, among those the blockade of cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptor. In this regard, our previous study showed that the CB1 receptor antagonist/inverse agonist rimonabant normalized a number of core features in the Fmr1 knockout mouse. Rimonabant was commercialized at high doses for its anti-obesity properties, and withdrawn from the market on the bases of mood-related adverse effects. In this study we show, by using electrophysiological approaches, that low dosages of rimonabant (0.1 mg/kg) manage to normalize metabotropic glutamate receptor dependent long-term depression (mGluR-LTD). In addition, low doses of rimonabant (from 0.01 mg/kg) equally normalized the cognitive deficit in the mouse model of FXS. These doses of rimonabant were from 30 to 300 times lower than those required to reduce body weight in rodents and to presumably produce adverse effects in humans. Furthermore, NESS0327, a CB1 receptor neutral antagonist, was also effective in preventing the novel object-recognition memory deficit in Fmr1 KO mice. These data further support targeting CB1 receptors as a relevant therapy for FXS.

Concepts: Receptor, Ligand, Receptor antagonist, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Mental retardation, Inverse agonist, Fragile X syndrome, Schild regression


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


Aging is a natural phenomenon characterized by progressive decline in tissue and organ function leading to increased risk of disease and mortality. Among diverse factors that contribute to human aging, the mitochondrial dysfunction has emerged as one of the key hallmarks of aging process and is linked to the development of numerous age-related pathologies including metabolic syndrome, neurodegenerative disorders, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Mitochondria are central in the regulation of energy and metabolic homeostasis, and harbor a complex quality control system that limits mitochondrial damage to ensure mitochondrial integrity and function. The intricate regulatory network that balances the generation of new and removal of damaged mitochondria forms the basis of aging and longevity. Here, I will review our current understanding on how mitochondrial functional decline contributes to aging, including the role of somatic mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations, reactive oxygen species (ROS), mitochondrial dynamics and quality control pathways. I will further discuss the emerging evidence on how dysregulated mitochondrial dynamics, mitochondrial biogenesis and turnover mechanisms contribute to the pathogenesis of age-related disorders. Strategies aimed to enhance mitochondrial function by targeting mitochondrial dynamics, quality control, and mitohormesis pathways might promote healthy aging, protect against age-related diseases, and mediate longevity.

Concepts: DNA, Oxygen, Metabolism, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Oxidative phosphorylation, Reactive oxygen species, Electron transport chain


Telomere length and cell function can be preserved by the human reverse transcriptase telomerase (hTERT), which synthesizes the new telomeric DNA from a RNA template, but is normally restricted to cells needing a high proliferative capacity, such as stem cells. Consequently, telomerase-based therapies to elongate short telomeres are developed, some of which have successfully reached the stage I in clinical trials. Telomerase is also permissive for tumorigenesis and 90% of all malignant tumors use telomerase to obtain immortality. Thus, reversal of telomerase upregulation in tumor cells is a potential strategy to treat cancer. Natural and small-molecule telomerase inhibitors, immunotherapeutic approaches, oligonucleotide inhibitors, and telomerase-directed gene therapy are useful treatment strategies. Telomerase is more widely expressed than any other tumor marker. The low expression in normal tissues, together with the longer telomeres in normal stem cells versus cancer cells, provides some degree of specificity with low risk of toxicity. However, long term telomerase inhibition may elicit negative effects in highly-proliferative cells which need telomerase for survival, and it may interfere with telomere-independent physiological functions. Moreover, only a few hTERT molecules are required to overcome senescence in cancer cells, and telomerase inhibition requires proliferating cells over a sufficient number of population doublings to induce tumor suppressive senescence. These limitations may explain the moderate success rates in many clinical studies. Despite extensive studies, only one vaccine and one telomerase antagonist are routinely used in clinical work. For complete eradication of all subpopulations of cancer cells a simultaneous targeting of several mechanisms will likely be needed. Possible technical improvements have been proposed including the development of more specific inhibitors, methods to increase the efficacy of vaccination methods, and personalized approaches. Telomerase activation and cell rejuvenation is successfully used in regenerative medicine for tissue engineering and reconstructive surgery. However, there are also a number of pitfalls in the treatment with telomerase activating procedures for the whole organism and for longer periods of time. Extended cell lifespan may accumulate rare genetic and epigenetic aberrations that can contribute to malignant transformation. Therefore, novel vector systems have been developed for a ‘mild’ integration of telomerase into the host genome and loss of the vector in rapidly-proliferating cells. It is currently unclear if this technique can also be used in human beings to treat chronic diseases, such as atherosclerosis.

Concepts: DNA, Cancer, Oncology, Senescence, Cell division, Neoplasm, Telomerase, Telomere


Identifying the genetic basis underlying phenotypic divergence and reproductive isolation is a longstanding problem in evolutionary biology. Genetic signals of adaptation and reproductive isolation are often confounded by a wide range of factors, such as variation in demographic history or genomic features. Brown trout (Salmo trutta) in the Loch Maree catchment, Scotland, exhibit reproductively isolated divergent life history morphs, including a rare piscivorous (ferox) life history form displaying larger body size, greater longevity and delayed maturation compared to sympatric benthivorous brown trout. Using a dataset of 16,066 SNPs, we analyzed the evolutionary history and genetic architecture underlying this divergence. We found that ferox trout and benthivorous brown trout most likely evolved after recent secondary contact of two distinct glacial lineages, and identified 33 genomic outlier windows across the genome, of which several have most likely formed through selection. We further identified twelve candidate genes and biological pathways related to growth, development and immune response potentially underpinning the observed phenotypic differences. The identification of clear genomic signals divergent between life history phenotypes and potentially linked to reproductive isolation, through size assortative mating, as well as the identification of the underlying demographic history, highlights the power of genomic studies of young species pairs for understanding the factors shaping genetic differentiation.


Understanding the phenotypic and molecular mechanisms that contribute to genetic diversity between and within species is fundamental in studying the evolution of species. In particular, identifying the interspecific differences that lead to the reduction or even cessation of gene flow between nascent species is one of the main goals of speciation genetic research. Transposable elements (TEs) are DNA sequences with the ability to move within genomes. TEs are ubiquitous throughout eukaryotic genomes and have been shown to alter regulatory networks, gene expression, and to rearrange genomes as a result of their transposition. However, no systematic effort has evaluated the role of TEs in speciation. We compiled the evidence for TEs as potential causes of reproductive isolation across a diversity of taxa. We find that TEs are often associated with hybrid defects that might preclude the fusion between species, but that the involvement of TEs in other barriers to gene flow different from postzygotic isolation is still relatively unknown. Finally, we list a series of guides and research avenues to disentangle the effects of TEs on the origin of new species.


Sex chromosomes form once recombination is halted around the sex-determining locus between a homologous pair of chromosomes, resulting in a male-limited Y chromosome. We recently characterized the nascent sex chromosome system in the Trinidadian guppy (Poeciliareticulata). The guppy Y is one of the youngest animal sex chromosomes yet identified, and therefore offers a unique window into the early evolutionary forces shaping sex chromosome formation, particularly the rate of accumulation of repetitive elements and Y-specific sequence. We used comparisons between male and female genomes in P. reticulata and its sister species, Endler’s guppy (P. wingei), which share an ancestral sex chromosome, to identify male-specific sequences and to characterize the degree of differentiation between the X and Y chromosomes. We identified male-specific sequence shared between P. reticulata and P. wingei consistent with a small ancestral non-recombining region. Our assembly of this Y-specific sequence shows substantial homology to the X chromosome, and appears to be significantly enriched for genes implicated in pigmentation. We also found two plausible candidates that may be involved in sex determination. Furthermore, we found that the P. wingei Y chromosome exhibits a greater signature of repetitive element accumulation than the P. reticulata Y chromosome. This suggests that Y chromosome divergence does not necessarily correlate with the time since recombination suppression. Overall, our results reveal the early stages of Y chromosome divergence in the guppy.


This paper reconsiders the role of mitochondria in aging and in Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The most important risk factor for PD is aging. Alterations in mitochondrial activity are typical of aging. Mitochondrial aging is characterized by decreased oxidative phosphorylation, proteasome activity decrease, altered autophagy, and mitochondrial dysfunction. Beyond declined oxidative phosphorylation, mitochondrial dysfunction consists of a decline of beta-oxidation as well as of the Krebs cycle. Not inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations are acquired over time and parallel the decrease in oxidative phosphorylation. Many of these mitochondrial alterations are also found in the PD brain specifically in the substantia nigra (SN). mtDNA deletions and development of respiratory chain deficiency in SN neurons of aged individuals as well as of individuals with PD converge towards a shared pathway, which leads to neuronal dysfunction and death. Finally, several nuclear genes that are mutated in hereditary PD are usually implicated in mitochondrial functioning to a various extent and their mutation may cause mitochondrial impairment. In conclusion, a tight link exists between mitochondria, aging, and PD.


Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations accumulate in somatic stem cells during ageing and cause mitochondrial dysfunction. In this review, we summarize the studies that link mtDNA mutations to stem cell ageing. We discuss the age-related behaviours of the somatic mtDNA mutations in stem cell populations and how they potentially contribute to stem cell ageing by altering mitochondrial properties in humans and in mtDNA-mutator mice. We also draw attention to the diverse fates of the mtDNA mutations with different origins during ageing, with potential selective pressures on the germline inherited but not the somatic mtDNA mutations.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell, Human, Mutation, Natural selection, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA