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Journal: PLoS genetics


In flat-faced dog breeds, air resistance caused by skull conformation is believed to be a major determinant of Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). The clinical presentation of BOAS is heterogeneous, suggesting determinants independent of skull conformation contribute to airway disease. Norwich Terriers, a mesocephalic breed, are predisposed to Upper Airway Syndrome (UAS), a disease whose pathological features overlap with BOAS. Our health screening clinic examined and scored the airways of 401 Norwich terriers by laryngoscopy. Genome-wide association analyses of UAS-related pathologies revealed a genetic association on canine chromosome 13 (rs9043975, p = 7.79x10-16). Whole genome resequencing was used to identify causal variant(s) within a 414 kb critical interval. This approach highlighted an error in the CanFam3.1 dog assembly, which when resolved, led to the discovery of a c.2786G>A missense variant in exon 20 of the positional candidate gene, ADAM metallopeptidase with thrombospondin type 1 motif 3 (ADAMTS3). In addition to segregating with UAS amongst Norwich Terriers, the ADAMTS3 c.2786G>A risk allele frequency was enriched among the BOAS-susceptible French and (English) Bulldogs. Previous studies indicate that ADAMTS3 loss of function results in lymphoedema. Our results suggest a new paradigm in the understanding of canine upper airway disease aetiology: airway oedema caused by disruption of ADAMTS3 predisposes dogs to respiratory obstruction. These findings will enhance breeding practices and could refine the prognostics of surgical interventions that are often used to treat airway obstruction.


Malaria transmission is dependent on the propensity of Anopheles mosquitoes to bite humans (anthropophily) instead of other dead end hosts. Recent increases in the usage of Long Lasting Insecticide Treated Nets (LLINs) in Africa have been associated with reductions in highly anthropophilic and endophilic vectors such as Anopheles gambiae s.s., leaving species with a broader host range, such as Anopheles arabiensis, as the most prominent remaining source of transmission in many settings. An. arabiensis appears to be more of a generalist in terms of its host choice and resting behavior, which may be due to phenotypic plasticity and/or segregating allelic variation. To investigate the genetic basis of host choice and resting behavior in An. arabiensis we sequenced the genomes of 23 human-fed and 25 cattle-fed mosquitoes collected both in-doors and out-doors in the Kilombero Valley, Tanzania. We identified a total of 4,820,851 SNPs, which were used to conduct the first genome-wide estimates of “SNP heritability” for host choice and resting behavior in this species. A genetic component was detected for host choice (human vs cow fed; permuted P = 0.002), but there was no evidence of a genetic component for resting behavior (indoors versus outside; permuted P = 0.465). A principal component analysis (PCA) segregated individuals based on genomic variation into three groups which were characterized by differences at the 2Rb and/or 3Ra paracentromeric chromosome inversions. There was a non-random distribution of cattle-fed mosquitoes between the PCA clusters, suggesting that alleles linked to the 2Rb and/or 3Ra inversions may influence host choice. Using a novel inversion genotyping assay, we detected a significant enrichment of the standard arrangement (non-inverted) of 3Ra among cattle-fed mosquitoes (N = 129) versus all non-cattle-fed individuals (N = 234; χ2, p = 0.007). Thus, tracking the frequency of the 3Ra in An. arabiensis populations may be of use to infer selection on host choice behavior within these vector populations; possibly in response to vector control. Controlled host-choice assays are needed to discern whether the observed genetic component has a direct relationship with innate host preference. A better understanding of the genetic basis for host feeding behavior in An. arabiensis may also open avenues for novel vector control strategies based on driving genes for zoophily into wild mosquito populations.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Malaria, Anopheles, Mosquito, Principal component analysis, Mosquito control, Anopheles gambiae


Inter-individual variation in facial shape is one of the most noticeable phenotypes in humans, and it is clearly under genetic regulation; however, almost nothing is known about the genetic basis of normal human facial morphology. We therefore conducted a genome-wide association study for facial shape phenotypes in multiple discovery and replication cohorts, considering almost ten thousand individuals of European descent from several countries. Phenotyping of facial shape features was based on landmark data obtained from three-dimensional head magnetic resonance images (MRIs) and two-dimensional portrait images. We identified five independent genetic loci associated with different facial phenotypes, suggesting the involvement of five candidate genes-PRDM16, PAX3, TP63, C5orf50, and COL17A1-in the determination of the human face. Three of them have been implicated previously in vertebrate craniofacial development and disease, and the remaining two genes potentially represent novel players in the molecular networks governing facial development. Our finding at PAX3 influencing the position of the nasion replicates a recent GWAS of facial features. In addition to the reported GWA findings, we established links between common DNA variants previously associated with NSCL/P at 2p21, 8q24, 13q31, and 17q22 and normal facial-shape variations based on a candidate gene approach. Overall our study implies that DNA variants in genes essential for craniofacial development contribute with relatively small effect size to the spectrum of normal variation in human facial morphology. This observation has important consequences for future studies aiming to identify more genes involved in the human facial morphology, as well as for potential applications of DNA prediction of facial shape such as in future forensic applications.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Genotype, Evolution, Phenotype, Francis Crick


Obesity is a worldwide health problem that is closely linked to many metabolic disorders. Regular physical exercise has been found to attenuate the genetic predisposition to obesity. However, it remains unknown what kinds of exercise can modify the genetic risk of obesity. This study included 18,424 unrelated Han Chinese adults aged 30-70 years who participated in the Taiwan Biobank (TWB). A total of 5 obesity measures were investigated here, including body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage (BFP), waist circumference (WC), hip circumference (HC), and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). Because there have been no large genome-wide association studies on obesity for Han Chinese, we used the TWB internal weights to construct genetic risk scores (GRSs) for each obesity measure, and then test the significance of GRS-by-exercise interactions. The significance level throughout this work was set at 0.05/550 = 9.1x10-5 because a total of 550 tests were performed. Performing regular exercise was found to attenuate the genetic effects on 4 obesity measures, including BMI, BFP, WC, and HC. Among the 18 kinds of self-reported regular exercise, 6 mitigated the genetic effects on at least one obesity measure. Regular jogging blunted the genetic effects on BMI, BFP, and HC. Mountain climbing, walking, exercise walking, international standard dancing, and a longer practice of yoga also attenuated the genetic effects on BMI. Exercises such as cycling, stretching exercise, swimming, dance dance revolution, and qigong were not found to modify the genetic effects on any obesity measure. Across all 5 obesity measures, regular jogging consistently presented the most significant interactions with GRSs. Our findings show that the genetic effects on obesity measures can be decreased to various extents by performing different kinds of exercise. The benefits of regular physical exercise are more impactful in subjects who are more predisposed to obesity.


As our understanding of genetics has improved, genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified numerous variants associated with lifestyle behaviours and health outcomes. However, what is sometimes overlooked is the possibility that genetic variants identified in GWAS of disease might reflect the effect of modifiable risk factors as well as direct genetic effects. We discuss this possibility with illustrative examples from tobacco and alcohol research, in which genetic variants that predict behavioural phenotypes have been seen in GWAS of diseases known to be causally related to these behaviours. This consideration has implications for the interpretation of GWAS findings.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Epidemiology, Cancer, Genetic disorder, Genome-wide association study


The Caribbean basin is home to some of the most complex interactions in recent history among previously diverged human populations. Here, we investigate the population genetic history of this region by characterizing patterns of genome-wide variation among 330 individuals from three of the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola), two mainland (Honduras, Colombia), and three Native South American (Yukpa, Bari, and Warao) populations. We combine these data with a unique database of genomic variation in over 3,000 individuals from diverse European, African, and Native American populations. We use local ancestry inference and tract length distributions to test different demographic scenarios for the pre- and post-colonial history of the region. We develop a novel ancestry-specific PCA (ASPCA) method to reconstruct the sub-continental origin of Native American, European, and African haplotypes from admixed genomes. We find that the most likely source of the indigenous ancestry in Caribbean islanders is a Native South American component shared among inland Amazonian tribes, Central America, and the Yucatan peninsula, suggesting extensive gene flow across the Caribbean in pre-Columbian times. We find evidence of two pulses of African migration. The first pulse-which today is reflected by shorter, older ancestry tracts-consists of a genetic component more similar to coastal West African regions involved in early stages of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The second pulse-reflected by longer, younger tracts-is more similar to present-day West-Central African populations, supporting historical records of later transatlantic deportation. Surprisingly, we also identify a Latino-specific European component that has significantly diverged from its parental Iberian source populations, presumably as a result of small European founder population size. We demonstrate that the ancestral components in admixed genomes can be traced back to distinct sub-continental source populations with far greater resolution than previously thought, even when limited pre-Columbian Caribbean haplotypes have survived.

Concepts: Africa, United States, North America, Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Slavery, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Atlantic slave trade


To identify genetic changes underlying dog domestication and reconstruct their early evolutionary history, we generated high-quality genome sequences from three gray wolves, one from each of the three putative centers of dog domestication, two basal dog lineages (Basenji and Dingo) and a golden jackal as an outgroup. Analysis of these sequences supports a demographic model in which dogs and wolves diverged through a dynamic process involving population bottlenecks in both lineages and post-divergence gene flow. In dogs, the domestication bottleneck involved at least a 16-fold reduction in population size, a much more severe bottleneck than estimated previously. A sharp bottleneck in wolves occurred soon after their divergence from dogs, implying that the pool of diversity from which dogs arose was substantially larger than represented by modern wolf populations. We narrow the plausible range for the date of initial dog domestication to an interval spanning 11-16 thousand years ago, predating the rise of agriculture. In light of this finding, we expand upon previous work regarding the increase in copy number of the amylase gene (AMY2B) in dogs, which is believed to have aided digestion of starch in agricultural refuse. We find standing variation for amylase copy number variation in wolves and little or no copy number increase in the Dingo and Husky lineages. In conjunction with the estimated timing of dog origins, these results provide additional support to archaeological finds, suggesting the earliest dogs arose alongside hunter-gathers rather than agriculturists. Regarding the geographic origin of dogs, we find that, surprisingly, none of the extant wolf lineages from putative domestication centers is more closely related to dogs, and, instead, the sampled wolves form a sister monophyletic clade. This result, in combination with dog-wolf admixture during the process of domestication, suggests that a re-evaluation of past hypotheses regarding dog origins is necessary.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Dog, Canidae, Gray Wolf, Coyote, Canis


For the last 500 years, the Americas have been a melting pot both for genetically diverse humans and for the pathogenic and commensal organisms associated with them. One such organism is the stomach-dwelling bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which is highly prevalent in Latin America where it is a major current public health challenge because of its strong association with gastric cancer. By analyzing the genome sequence of H. pylori isolated in North, Central and South America, we found evidence for admixture between H. pylori of European and African origin throughout the Americas, without substantial input from pre-Columbian (hspAmerind) bacteria. In the US, strains of African and European origin have remained genetically distinct, while in Colombia and Nicaragua, bottlenecks and rampant genetic exchange amongst isolates have led to the formation of national gene pools. We found three outer membrane proteins with atypical levels of Asian ancestry in American strains, as well as alleles that were nearly fixed specifically in South American isolates, suggesting a role for the ethnic makeup of hosts in the colonization of incoming strains. Our results show that new H. pylori subpopulations can rapidly arise, spread and adapt during times of demographic flux, and suggest that differences in transmission ecology between high and low prevalence areas may substantially affect the composition of bacterial populations.

Concepts: Gene, Bacteria, United States, Helicobacter pylori, North America, South America, Americas, Indigenous peoples of the Americas


Spermatogenesis is a complex process reliant upon interactions between germ cells (GC) and supporting somatic cells. Testicular Sertoli cells (SC) support GCs during maturation through physical attachment, the provision of nutrients, and protection from immunological attack. This role is facilitated by an active cytoskeleton of parallel microtubule arrays that permit transport of nutrients to GCs, as well as translocation of spermatids through the seminiferous epithelium during maturation. It is well established that chemical perturbation of SC microtubule remodelling leads to premature GC exfoliation demonstrating that microtubule remodelling is an essential component of male fertility, yet the genes responsible for this process remain unknown. Using a random ENU mutagenesis approach, we have identified a novel mouse line displaying male-specific infertility, due to a point mutation in the highly conserved ATPase domain of the novel KATANIN p60-related microtubule severing protein Katanin p60 subunit A-like1 (KATNAL1). We demonstrate that Katnal1 is expressed in testicular Sertoli cells (SC) from 15.5 days post-coitum (dpc) and that, consistent with chemical disruption models, loss of function of KATNAL1 leads to male-specific infertility through disruption of SC microtubule dynamics and premature exfoliation of spermatids from the seminiferous epithelium. The identification of KATNAL1 as an essential regulator of male fertility provides a significant novel entry point into advancing our understanding of how SC microtubule dynamics promotes male fertility. Such information will have resonance both for future treatment of male fertility and the development of non-hormonal male contraceptives.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Testicle, Spermatozoon, Sertoli cell, Spermatogenesis


Sexual dimorphism in body weight, fat distribution, and metabolic disease has been attributed largely to differential effects of male and female gonadal hormones. Here, we report that the number of X chromosomes within cells also contributes to these sex differences. We employed a unique mouse model, known as the “four core genotypes,” to distinguish between effects of gonadal sex (testes or ovaries) and sex chromosomes (XX or XY). With this model, we produced gonadal male and female mice carrying XX or XY sex chromosome complements. Mice were gonadectomized to remove the acute effects of gonadal hormones and to uncover effects of sex chromosome complement on obesity. Mice with XX sex chromosomes (relative to XY), regardless of their type of gonad, had up to 2-fold increased adiposity and greater food intake during daylight hours, when mice are normally inactive. Mice with two X chromosomes also had accelerated weight gain on a high fat diet and developed fatty liver and elevated lipid and insulin levels. Further genetic studies with mice carrying XO and XXY chromosome complements revealed that the differences between XX and XY mice are attributable to dosage of the X chromosome, rather than effects of the Y chromosome. A subset of genes that escape X chromosome inactivation exhibited higher expression levels in adipose tissue and liver of XX compared to XY mice, and may contribute to the sex differences in obesity. Overall, our study is the first to identify sex chromosome complement, a factor distinguishing all male and female cells, as a cause of sex differences in obesity and metabolism.

Concepts: Male, Chromosome, Obesity, Sex, Y chromosome, Gamete, X chromosome, XY sex-determination system