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Journal: Molecular systems biology


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


Advances in genome sequencing have progressed at a rapid pace, with increased throughput accompanied by plunging costs. But these advances go far beyond faster and cheaper. High-throughput sequencing technologies are now routinely being applied to a wide range of important topics in biology and medicine, often allowing researchers to address important biological questions that were not possible before. In this review, we discuss these innovative new approaches-including ever finer analyses of transcriptome dynamics, genome structure and genomic variation-and provide an overview of the new insights into complex biological systems catalyzed by these technologies. We also assess the impact of genotyping, genome sequencing and personal omics profiling on medical applications, including diagnosis and disease monitoring. Finally, we review recent developments in single-cell sequencing, and conclude with a discussion of possible future advances and obstacles for sequencing in biology and health.

Concepts: Medicine, Genetics, Biology, Biotechnology


Circadian (∼24 h) timekeeping is essential for the lives of many organisms. To understand the biochemical mechanisms of this timekeeping, we have developed a detailed mathematical model of the mammalian circadian clock. Our model can accurately predict diverse experimental data including the phenotypes of mutations or knockdown of clock genes as well as the time courses and relative expression of clock transcripts and proteins. Using this model, we show how a universal motif of circadian timekeeping, where repressors tightly bind activators rather than directly binding to DNA, can generate oscillations when activators and repressors are in stoichiometric balance. Furthermore, we find that an additional slow negative feedback loop preserves this stoichiometric balance and maintains timekeeping with a fixed period. The role of this mechanism in generating robust rhythms is validated by analysis of a simple and general model and a previous model of the Drosophila circadian clock. We propose a double-negative feedback loop design for biological clocks whose period needs to be tightly regulated even with large changes in gene dosage.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Biology, Control theory, Feedback, Negative feedback, Period, CLOCK


Numerous transcription factors (TFs) encode information about upstream signals in the dynamics of their activation, but how downstream genes decode these dynamics remains poorly understood. Using microfluidics to control the nucleocytoplasmic translocation dynamics of the budding yeast TF Msn2, we elucidate the principles that govern how different promoters convert dynamical Msn2 input into gene expression output in single cells. Combining modeling and experiments, we classify promoters according to their signal-processing behavior and reveal that multiple, distinct gene expression programs can be encoded in the dynamics of Msn2. We show that both oscillatory TF dynamics and slow promoter kinetics lead to higher noise in gene expression. Furthermore, we show that the promoter activation timescale is related to nucleosome remodeling. Our findings imply a fundamental trade-off: although the cell can exploit different promoter classes to differentially control gene expression using TF dynamics, gene expression noise fundamentally limits how much information can be encoded in the dynamics of a single TF and reliably decoded by promoters.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Cell nucleus, Gene expression, Transcription, Transcription factor, RNA polymerase


Human FOXP3(+)CD25(+)CD4(+) regulatory T cells (Tregs) are essential to the maintenance of immune homeostasis. Several genes are known to be important for murine Tregs, but for human Tregs the genes and underlying molecular networks controlling the suppressor function still largely remain unclear. Here, we describe a strategy to identify the key genes directly from an undirected correlation network which we reconstruct from a very high time-resolution (HTR) transcriptome during the activation of human Tregs/CD4(+) T-effector cells. We show that a predicted top-ranked new key gene PLAU (the plasminogen activator urokinase) is important for the suppressor function of both human and murine Tregs. Further analysis unveils that PLAU is particularly important for memory Tregs and that PLAU mediates Treg suppressor function via STAT5 and ERK signaling pathways. Our study demonstrates the potential for identifying novel key genes for complex dynamic biological processes using a network strategy based on HTR data, and reveals a critical role for PLAU in Treg suppressor function.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Organism, T cells


Copy number alteration (CNA) profiling of human tumors has revealed recurrent patterns of DNA amplifications and deletions across diverse cancer types. These patterns are suggestive of conserved selection pressures during tumor evolution but cannot be fully explained by known oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. Using a pan-cancer analysis of CNA data from patient tumors and experimental systems, here we show that principal component analysis-defined CNA signatures are predictive of glycolytic phenotypes, including (18)F-fluorodeoxy-glucose (FDG) avidity of patient tumors, and increased proliferation. The primary CNA signature is enriched for p53 mutations and is associated with glycolysis through coordinate amplification of glycolytic genes and other cancer-linked metabolic enzymes. A pan-cancer and cross-species comparison of CNAs highlighted 26 consistently altered DNA regions, containing 11 enzymes in the glycolysis pathway in addition to known cancer-driving genes. Furthermore, exogenous expression of hexokinase and enolase enzymes in an experimental immortalization system altered the subsequent copy number status of the corresponding endogenous loci, supporting the hypothesis that these metabolic genes act as drivers within the conserved CNA amplification regions. Taken together, these results demonstrate that metabolic stress acts as a selective pressure underlying the recurrent CNAs observed in human tumors, and further cast genomic instability as an enabling event in tumorigenesis and metabolic evolution.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Cancer, Oncology, Evolution, Copy number variation, DNA repair, Glycolysis


Technological advances in genomics and imaging have led to an explosion of molecular and cellular profiling data from large numbers of samples. This rapid increase in biological data dimension and acquisition rate is challenging conventional analysis strategies. Modern machine learning methods, such as deep learning, promise to leverage very large data sets for finding hidden structure within them, and for making accurate predictions. In this review, we discuss applications of this new breed of analysis approaches in regulatory genomics and cellular imaging. We provide background of what deep learning is, and the settings in which it can be successfully applied to derive biological insights. In addition to presenting specific applications and providing tips for practical use, we also highlight possible pitfalls and limitations to guide computational biologists when and how to make the most use of this new technology.

Concepts: Scientific method, Bioinformatics, Biology, Machine learning, Learning, Computational biology, Computational genomics, Technology


There is a groundswell of interest in using genetically engineered sensor bacteria to study gut microbiota pathways, and diagnose or treat associated diseases. Here, we computationally identify the first biological thiosulfate sensor and an improved tetrathionate sensor, both two-component systems from marine Shewanella species, and validate them in laboratory Escherichia coli Then, we port these sensors into a gut-adapted probiotic E. coli strain, and develop a method based upon oral gavage and flow cytometry of colon and fecal samples to demonstrate that colon inflammation (colitis) activates the thiosulfate sensor in mice harboring native gut microbiota. Our thiosulfate sensor may have applications in bacterial diagnostics or therapeutics. Finally, our approach can be replicated for a wide range of bacterial sensors and should thus enable a new class of minimally invasive studies of gut microbiota pathways.

Concepts: DNA, Medicine, Gene, Archaea, Bacteria, Gut flora, Microbiology, Escherichia coli


Engineered bacteria have great potential for medical and environmental applications. Fulfilling this potential requires controllability over engineered behaviors and scalability of the engineered systems. Here, we present a platform technology, microbial swarmbot, which employs spatial arrangement to control the growth dynamics of engineered bacteria. As a proof of principle, we demonstrated a safeguard strategy to prevent unintended bacterial proliferation. In particular, we adopted several synthetic gene circuits to program collective survival in Escherichia coli: the engineered bacteria could only survive when present at sufficiently high population densities. When encapsulated by permeable membranes, these bacteria can sense the local environment and respond accordingly. The cells inside the microbial swarmbot capsules will survive due to their high densities. Those escaping from a capsule, however, will be killed due to a decrease in their densities. We demonstrate that this design concept is modular and readily generalizable. Our work lays the foundation for engineering integrated and programmable control of hybrid biological-material systems for diverse applications.

Concepts: DNA, Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Antibiotic resistance, Escherichia coli, Population density, Proteobacteria


We performed integrative network analyses to identify targets that can be used for effectively treating liver diseases with minimal side effects. We first generated co-expression networks (CNs) for 46 human tissues and liver cancer to explore the functional relationships between genes and examined the overlap between functional and physical interactions. Since increased de novo lipogenesis is a characteristic of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), we investigated the liver-specific genes co-expressed with fatty acid synthase (FASN). CN analyses predicted that inhibition of these liver-specific genes decreases FASN expression. Experiments in human cancer cell lines, mouse liver samples, and primary human hepatocytes validated our predictions by demonstrating functional relationships between these liver genes, and showing that their inhibition decreases cell growth and liver fat content. In conclusion, we identified liver-specific genes linked to NAFLD pathogenesis, such as pyruvate kinase liver and red blood cell (PKLR), or to HCC pathogenesis, such as PKLR, patatin-like phospholipase domain containing 3 (PNPLA3), and proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9), all of which are potential targets for drug development.

Concepts: Cancer, Fatty acid, Obesity, Cirrhosis, Liver, Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Fatty liver, Fatty acid synthase