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

Journal: Nature biotechnology


Cultivated citrus are selections from, or hybrids of, wild progenitor species whose identities and contributions to citrus domestication remain controversial. Here we sequence and compare citrus genomes-a high-quality reference haploid clementine genome and mandarin, pummelo, sweet-orange and sour-orange genomes-and show that cultivated types derive from two progenitor species. Although cultivated pummelos represent selections from one progenitor species, Citrus maxima, cultivated mandarins are introgressions of C. maxima into the ancestral mandarin species Citrus reticulata. The most widely cultivated citrus, sweet orange, is the offspring of previously admixed individuals, but sour orange is an F1 hybrid of pure C. maxima and C. reticulata parents, thus implying that wild mandarins were part of the early breeding germplasm. A Chinese wild ‘mandarin’ diverges substantially from C. reticulata, thus suggesting the possibility of other unrecognized wild citrus species. Understanding citrus phylogeny through genome analysis clarifies taxonomic relationships and facilitates sequence-directed genetic improvement.

Concepts: Citrus, Orange, Grapefruit, Tangerine, Rutaceae, Pomelo, Mandarin orange, Clementine


Additive manufacturing, otherwise known as three-dimensional (3D) printing, is driving major innovations in many areas, such as engineering, manufacturing, art, education and medicine. Recent advances have enabled 3D printing of biocompatible materials, cells and supporting components into complex 3D functional living tissues. 3D bioprinting is being applied to regenerative medicine to address the need for tissues and organs suitable for transplantation. Compared with non-biological printing, 3D bioprinting involves additional complexities, such as the choice of materials, cell types, growth and differentiation factors, and technical challenges related to the sensitivities of living cells and the construction of tissues. Addressing these complexities requires the integration of technologies from the fields of engineering, biomaterials science, cell biology, physics and medicine. 3D bioprinting has already been used for the generation and transplantation of several tissues, including multilayered skin, bone, vascular grafts, tracheal splints, heart tissue and cartilaginous structures. Other applications include developing high-throughput 3D-bioprinted tissue models for research, drug discovery and toxicology.

Concepts: DNA, Cell nucleus, Cell, Biology, Organelle, Cell biology, Organ, Cell type


High crop yields depend on the continuous input of orthophosphate (PO(4)(−3))-based fertilizers and herbicides. Two major challenges for agriculture are that phosphorus is a nonrenewable resource and that weeds have developed broad herbicide resistance. One strategy to overcome both problems is to engineer plants to outcompete weeds and microorganisms for limiting resources, thereby reducing the requirement for both fertilizers and herbicides. Plants and most microorganisms are unable to metabolize phosphite (PO(3)(−3)), so we developed a dual fertilization and weed control system by generating transgenic plants that can use phosphite as a sole phosphorus source. Under greenhouse conditions, these transgenic plants require 30–50% less phosphorus input when fertilized with phosphite to achieve similar productivity to that obtained by the same plants using orthophosphate fertilizer and, when in competition with weeds, accumulate 2–10 times greater biomass than when fertilized with orthophosphate.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Ammonia, Fertilizer, Phosphate, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Weed, Glyphosate


Cell replacement therapies for neurodegenerative disease have focused on transplantation of the cell types affected by the pathological process. Here we describe an alternative strategy for Parkinson’s disease in which dopamine neurons are generated by direct conversion of astrocytes. Using three transcription factors, NEUROD1, ASCL1 and LMX1A, and the microRNA miR218, collectively designated NeAL218, we reprogram human astrocytes in vitro, and mouse astrocytes in vivo, into induced dopamine neurons (iDANs). Reprogramming efficiency in vitro is improved by small molecules that promote chromatin remodeling and activate the TGFβ, Shh and Wnt signaling pathways. The reprogramming efficiency of human astrocytes reaches up to 16%, resulting in iDANs with appropriate midbrain markers and excitability. In a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease, NeAL218 alone reprograms adult striatal astrocytes into iDANs that are excitable and correct some aspects of motor behavior in vivo, including gait impairments. With further optimization, this approach may enable clinical therapies for Parkinson’s disease by delivery of genes rather than cells.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell nucleus, Gene expression, Chromosome, Substantia nigra, Neurotransmitter, Dopamine


Aberrant T-cell activation underlies many autoimmune disorders, yet most attempts to induce T-cell tolerance have failed. Building on previous strategies for tolerance induction that exploited natural mechanisms for clearing apoptotic debris, we show that antigen-decorated microparticles (500-nm diameter) induce long-term T-cell tolerance in mice with relapsing experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. Specifically, intravenous infusion of either polystyrene or biodegradable poly(lactide-co-glycolide) microparticles bearing encephalitogenic peptides prevents the onset and modifies the course of the disease. These beneficial effects require microparticle uptake by marginal zone macrophages expressing the scavenger receptor MARCO and are mediated in part by the activity of regulatory T cells, abortive T-cell activation and T-cell anergy. Together these data highlight the potential for using microparticles to target natural apoptotic clearance pathways to inactivate pathogenic T cells and halt the disease process in autoimmunity.

Concepts: Immune system, White blood cell, Protein, T cell, T cells, Major histocompatibility complex, Autoimmunity, Regulatory T cell


Large-scale surveys of single-cell gene expression have the potential to reveal rare cell populations and lineage relationships but require efficient methods for cell capture and mRNA sequencing. Although cellular barcoding strategies allow parallel sequencing of single cells at ultra-low depths, the limitations of shallow sequencing have not been investigated directly. By capturing 301 single cells from 11 populations using microfluidics and analyzing single-cell transcriptomes across downsampled sequencing depths, we demonstrate that shallow single-cell mRNA sequencing (∼50,000 reads per cell) is sufficient for unbiased cell-type classification and biomarker identification. In the developing cortex, we identify diverse cell types, including multiple progenitor and neuronal subtypes, and we identify EGR1 and FOS as previously unreported candidate targets of Notch signaling in human but not mouse radial glia. Our strategy establishes an efficient method for unbiased analysis and comparison of cell populations from heterogeneous tissue by microfluidic single-cell capture and low-coverage sequencing of many cells.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Cell nucleus, Gene expression, Cell, Organism, Cerebral cortex


Nanopore sequencing of DNA is a single-molecule technique that may achieve long reads, low cost and high speed with minimal sample preparation and instrumentation. Here, we build on recent progress with respect to nanopore resolution and DNA control to interpret the procession of ion current levels observed during the translocation of DNA through the pore MspA. As approximately four nucleotides affect the ion current of each level, we measured the ion current corresponding to all 256 four-nucleotide combinations (quadromers). This quadromer map is highly predictive of ion current levels of previously unmeasured sequences derived from the bacteriophage phi X 174 genome. Furthermore, we show nanopore sequencing reads of phi X 174 up to 4,500 bases in length, which can be unambiguously aligned to the phi X 174 reference genome, and demonstrate proof-of-concept utility with respect to hybrid genome assembly and polymorphism detection. This work provides a foundation for nanopore sequencing of long, natural DNA strands.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Base pair, Bacteriophage, Nanotechnology, Bacteriophages, Phi X 174


The re-use of previously validated designs is critical to the evolution of synthetic biology from a research discipline to an engineering practice. Here we describe the Synthetic Biology Open Language (SBOL), a proposed data standard for exchanging designs within the synthetic biology community. SBOL represents synthetic biology designs in a community-driven, formalized format for exchange between software tools, research groups and commercial service providers. The SBOL Developers Group has implemented SBOL as an XML/RDF serialization and provides software libraries and specification documentation to help developers implement SBOL in their own software. We describe early successes, including a demonstration of the utility of SBOL for information exchange between several different software tools and repositories from both academic and industrial partners. As a community-driven standard, SBOL will be updated as synthetic biology evolves to provide specific capabilities for different aspects of the synthetic biology workflow.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Species, Computer program, Implementation, Design, Community, Exchange


Genes underlying mutant phenotypes can be isolated by combining marker discovery, genetic mapping and resequencing, but a more straightforward strategy for mapping mutations would be the direct comparison of mutant and wild-type genomes. Applying such an approach, however, is hampered by the need for reference sequences and by mutational loads that confound the unambiguous identification of causal mutations. Here we introduce NIKS (needle in the k-stack), a reference-free algorithm based on comparing k-mers in whole-genome sequencing data for precise discovery of homozygous mutations. We applied NIKS to eight mutants induced in nonreference rice cultivars and to two mutants of the nonmodel species Arabis alpina. In both species, comparing pooled F2 individuals selected for mutant phenotypes revealed small sets of mutations including the causal changes. Moreover, comparing M3 seedlings of two allelic mutants unambiguously identified the causal gene. Thus, for any species amenable to mutagenesis, NIKS enables forward genetics without requiring segregating populations, genetic maps and reference sequences.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Allele, Evolution, Mutant, Classical genetics


RNA-protein interactions drive fundamental biological processes and are targets for molecular engineering, yet quantitative and comprehensive understanding of the sequence determinants of affinity remains limited. Here we repurpose a high-throughput sequencing instrument to quantitatively measure binding and dissociation of a fluorescently labeled protein to >10(7) RNA targets generated on a flow cell surface by in situ transcription and intermolecular tethering of RNA to DNA. Studying the MS2 coat protein, we decompose the binding energy contributions from primary and secondary RNA structure, and observe that differences in affinity are often driven by sequence-specific changes in both association and dissociation rates. By analyzing the biophysical constraints and modeling mutational paths describing the molecular evolution of MS2 from low- to high-affinity hairpins, we quantify widespread molecular epistasis and a long-hypothesized, structure-dependent preference for G:U base pairs over C:A intermediates in evolutionary trajectories. Our results suggest that quantitative analysis of RNA on a massively parallel array (RNA-MaP) provides generalizable insight into the biophysical basis and evolutionary consequences of sequence-function relationships.

Concepts: DNA, Scientific method, Gene, Genetics, Transcription, Molecular biology, Biology, RNA