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Journal: Nucleic acids research


DNA methylation plays a critical role in the regulation and maintenance of cell-type specific transcriptional programs. Targeted epigenome editing is an emerging technology to specifically regulate cellular gene expression in order to modulate cell phenotypes or dissect the epigenetic mechanisms involved in their control. In this work, we employed a DNA methyltransferase Dnmt3a-Dnmt3L construct fused to the nuclease-inactivated dCas9 programmable targeting domain to introduce DNA methylation into the human genome specifically at the EpCAM, CXCR4 and TFRC gene promoters. We show that targeting of these loci with single gRNAs leads to efficient and widespread methylation of the promoters. Multiplexing of several guide RNAs does not increase the efficiency of methylation. Peaks of targeted methylation were observed around 25 bp upstream and 40 bp downstream of the PAM site, while 20-30 bp of the binding site itself are protected against methylation. Potent methylation is dependent on the multimerization of Dnmt3a/Dnmt3L complexes on the DNA. Furthermore, the introduced methylation causes transcriptional repression of the targeted genes. These new programmable epigenetic editors allow unprecedented control of the DNA methylation status in cells and will lead to further advances in the understanding of epigenetic signaling.

Concepts: Epigenetics, Transcription, Protein, DNA methylation, Genetics, Gene expression, Gene, DNA


Currently, most paired link based scaffolding algorithms intrinsically mask the sequences between two linked contigs and bypass their direct link information embedded in the original de Bruijn assembly graph. Such disadvantage substantially complicates the scaffolding process and leads to the inability of resolving repetitive contig assembly. Here we present a novel algorithm, inGAP-sf, for effectively generating high-quality and continuous scaffolds. inGAP-sf achieves this by using a new strategy based on the combination of direct link and paired link graphs, in which direct link is used to increase graph connectivity and to decrease graph complexity and paired link is employed to supervise the traversing process on the direct link graph. Such advantage greatly facilitates the assembly of short-repeat enriched regions. Moreover, a new comprehensive decision model is developed to eliminate the noise routes accompanying with the introduced direct link. Through extensive evaluations on both simulated and real datasets, we demonstrated that inGAP-sf outperforms most of the genome scaffolding algorithms by generating more accurate and continuous assembly, especially for short repetitive regions.

Concepts: Graph, Discrete mathematics, Vertex-transitive graph, Planar graph, Algorithm, Graph theory


Carefully designed control experiments provide a gold standard for benchmarking different genomics research tools. A shortcoming of many gene expression control studies is that replication involves profiling the same reference RNA sample multiple times. This leads to low, pure technical noise that is atypical of regular studies. To achieve a more realistic noise structure, we generated a RNA-sequencing mixture experiment using two cell lines of the same cancer type. Variability was added by extracting RNA from independent cell cultures and degrading particular samples. The systematic gene expression changes induced by this design allowed benchmarking of different library preparation kits (standard poly-A versus total RNA with Ribozero depletion) and analysis pipelines. Data generated using the total RNA kit had more signal for introns and various RNA classes (ncRNA, snRNA, snoRNA) and less variability after degradation. For differential expression analysis, voom with quality weights marginally outperformed other popular methods, while for differential splicing, DEXSeq was simultaneously the most sensitive and the most inconsistent method. For sample deconvolution analysis, DeMix outperformed IsoPure convincingly. Our RNA-sequencing data set provides a valuable resource for benchmarking different protocols and data pre-processing workflows. The extra noise mimics routine lab experiments more closely, ensuring any conclusions are widely applicable.

Concepts: Genetics, RNA splicing, Transcription, Cell, DNA, Gene, RNA, Gene expression


The 20th annual Database Issue of Nucleic Acids Research includes 176 articles, half of which describe new online molecular biology databases and the other half provide updates on the databases previously featured in NAR and other journals. This year’s highlights include two databases of DNA repeat elements; several databases of transcriptional factors and transcriptional factor-binding sites; databases on various aspects of protein structure and protein-protein interactions; databases for metagenomic and rRNA sequence analysis; and four databases specifically dedicated to Escherichia coli. The increased emphasis on using the genome data to improve human health is reflected in the development of the databases of genomic structural variation (NCBI’s dbVar and EBI’s DGVa), the NIH Genetic Testing Registry and several other databases centered on the genetic basis of human disease, potential drugs, their targets and the mechanisms of protein-ligand binding. Two new databases present genomic and RNAseq data for monkeys, providing wealth of data on our closest relatives for comparative genomics purposes. The NAR online Molecular Biology Database Collection, available at, has been updated and currently lists 1512 online databases. The full content of the Database Issue is freely available online on the Nucleic Acids Research website (

Concepts: Genomics, Molecular biology, Bioinformatics, RNA, Gene, Protein, DNA, Genetics


Evolutionarily conserved RNA secondary structures are a robust indicator of purifying selection and, consequently, molecular function. Evaluating their genome-wide occurrence through comparative genomics has consistently been plagued by high false-positive rates and divergent predictions. We present a novel benchmarking pipeline aimed at calibrating the precision of genome-wide scans for consensus RNA structure prediction. The benchmarking data obtained from two refined structure prediction algorithms, RNAz and SISSIz, were then analyzed to fine-tune the parameters of an optimized workflow for genomic sliding window screens. When applied to consistency-based multiple genome alignments of 35 mammals, our approach confidently identifies >4 million evolutionarily constrained RNA structures using a conservative sensitivity threshold that entails historically low false discovery rates for such analyses (5-22%). These predictions comprise 13.6% of the human genome, 88% of which fall outside any known sequence-constrained element, suggesting that a large proportion of the mammalian genome is functional. As an example, our findings identify both known and novel conserved RNA structure motifs in the long noncoding RNA MALAT1. This study provides an extensive set of functional transcriptomic annotations that will assist researchers in uncovering the precise mechanisms underlying the developmental ontologies of higher eukaryotes.

Concepts: Human Genome Project, Non-coding RNA, Gene, Genome, Genomics, RNA, Genetics, DNA


Here, we present LNCipedia (, a novel database for human long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) transcripts and genes. LncRNAs constitute a large and diverse class of non-coding RNA genes. Although several lncRNAs have been functionally annotated, the majority remains to be characterized. Different high-throughput methods to identify new lncRNAs (including RNA sequencing and annotation of chromatin-state maps) have been applied in various studies resulting in multiple unrelated lncRNA data sets. LNCipedia offers 21 488 annotated human lncRNA transcripts obtained from different sources. In addition to basic transcript information and gene structure, several statistics are determined for each entry in the database, such as secondary structure information, protein coding potential and microRNA binding sites. Our analyses suggest that, much like microRNAs, many lncRNAs have a significant secondary structure, in-line with their presumed association with proteins or protein complexes. Available literature on specific lncRNAs is linked, and users or authors can submit articles through a web interface. Protein coding potential is assessed by two different prediction algorithms: Coding Potential Calculator and HMMER. In addition, a novel strategy has been integrated for detecting potentially coding lncRNAs by automatically re-analysing the large body of publicly available mass spectrometry data in the PRIDE database. LNCipedia is publicly available and allows users to query and download lncRNA sequences and structures based on different search criteria. The database may serve as a resource to initiate small- and large-scale lncRNA studies. As an example, the LNCipedia content was used to develop a custom microarray for expression profiling of all available lncRNAs.

Concepts: Amino acid, Transcription, Non-coding RNA, Molecular biology, Protein, DNA, Gene, RNA


Insertion and deletion polymorphisms (indels) are an important source of genomic variation in plant and animal genomes, but accurate genotyping from low-coverage and exome next-generation sequence data remains challenging. We introduce an efficient population clustering algorithm for diploids and polyploids which was tested on a dataset of 2000 exomes. Compared with existing methods, we report a 4-fold reduction in overall indel genotype error rates with a 9-fold reduction in low coverage regions.

Concepts: Biology, Genomics, Statistics, Frameshift mutation, Gene, Mutation, DNA, Genetics


The University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) Genome Browser ( offers online public access to a growing database of genomic sequence and annotations for a wide variety of organisms. The Browser is an integrated tool set for visualizing, comparing, analysing and sharing both publicly available and user-generated genomic datasets. As of September 2012, genomic sequence and a basic set of annotation ‘tracks’ are provided for 63 organisms, including 26 mammals, 13 non-mammal vertebrates, 3 invertebrate deuterostomes, 13 insects, 6 worms, yeast and sea hare. In the past year 19 new genome assemblies have been added, and we anticipate releasing another 28 in early 2013. Further, a large number of annotation tracks have been either added, updated by contributors or remapped to the latest human reference genome. Among these are an updated UCSC Genes track for human and mouse assemblies. We have also introduced several features to improve usability, including new navigation menus. This article provides an update to the UCSC Genome Browser database, which has been previously featured in the Database issue of this journal.

Concepts: Bacteria, Genomics, Insect, DNA, Organism, Genetics, Gene, Genome


Single-molecule techniques facilitate analysis of mechanical transitions within nucleic acids and proteins. Here, we describe an integrated fluorescence and magnetic tweezers instrument that permits detection of nanometer-scale DNA structural rearrangements together with the application of a wide range of stretching forces to individual DNA molecules. We have analyzed the force-dependent equilibrium and rate constants for telomere DNA G-quadruplex (GQ) folding and unfolding, and have determined the location of the transition state barrier along the well-defined DNA-stretching reaction coordinate. Our results reveal the mechanical unfolding pathway of the telomere DNA GQ is characterized by a short distance (<1 nm) to the transition state for the unfolding reaction. This mechanical unfolding response reflects a critical contribution of long-range interactions to the global stability of the GQ fold, and suggests that telomere-associated proteins need only disrupt a few base pairs to destabilize GQ structures. Comparison of the GQ unfolded state with a single-stranded polyT DNA revealed the unfolded GQ exhibits a compacted non-native conformation reminiscent of the protein molten globule. We expect the capacity to interrogate macromolecular structural transitions with high spatial resolution under conditions of low forces will have broad application in analyses of nucleic acid and protein folding.

Concepts: Base pair, Nucleotide, Hydrogen bond, Telomere, Protein, Protein structure, Protein folding, DNA


High-throughput sequencing is increasingly being used in combination with bisulfite (BS) assays to study DNA methylation at nucleotide resolution. Although several programmes provide genome-wide alignment of BS-treated reads, the resulting information is not readily interpretable and often requires further bioinformatic steps for meaningful analysis. Current post-alignment BS-sequencing programmes are generally focused on the gene-specific level, a restrictive feature when analysis in the non-coding regions, such as enhancers and intergenic microRNAs, is required. Here, we present Genome Bisulfite Sequencing Analyser (GBSA-, a free open-source software capable of analysing whole-genome bisulfite sequencing data with either a gene-centric or gene-independent focus. Through analysis of the largest published data sets to date, we demonstrate GBSA’s features in providing sequencing quality assessment, methylation scoring, functional data management and visualization of genomic methylation at nucleotide resolution. Additionally, we show that GBSA’s output can be easily integrated with other high-throughput sequencing data, such as RNA-Seq or ChIP-seq, to elucidate the role of methylated intergenic regions in gene regulation. In essence, GBSA allows an investigator to explore not only known loci but also all the genomic regions, for which methylation studies could lead to the discovery of new regulatory mechanisms.

Concepts: Molecular biology, Methylation, Epigenetics, Genomics, Gene expression, RNA, Gene, DNA