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Journal: Science China. Life sciences


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a pandemic with no specific drugs and high fatality. The most urgent need is to find effective treatments. We sought to determine whether hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) application may reduce the death risk of critically ill COVID-19 patients. In this retrospective study, we included 550 critically ill COVID-19 patients who need mechanical ventilation in Tongji Hospital, Wuhan, from February 1, 2020 to April 4, 2020. All 550 patients received comparable basic treatments including antiviral drugs and antibiotics, and 48 of them were treated with oral HCQ treatment (200 mg twice a day for 7-10 days) in addition to the basic treatments. Primary endpoint is fatality of patients, and inflammatory cytokine levels were compared between HCQ and non-hydroxychloroquine (NHCQ) treatments. We found that fatalities are 18.8% (9/48) in HCQ group, which is significantly lower than 47.4% (238/502) in the NHCQ group (P<0.001). The time of hospital stay before patient death is 15 (10-21) days and 8 (4-14) days for the HCQ and NHCQ groups, respectively (P<0.05). The levels of inflammatory cytokine IL-6 were significantly reduced from 22.2 (8.3-118.9) pg mL-1 at the beginning of the treatment to 5.2 (3.0-23.4) pg mL-1 (P<0.05) at the end of the treatment in the HCQ group but there is no change in the NHCQ group. These data demonstrate that addition of HCQ on top of the basic treatments is highly effective in reducing the fatality of critically ill patients of COVID-19 through attenuation of inflammatory cytokine storm. Therefore, HCQ should be prescribed as a part of treatment for critically ill COVID-19 patients, with possible outcome of saving lives. hydroxychloroquine, IL-6, mortalities, COVID-19.


Previous studies have showed clinical characteristics of patients with the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the evidence of person-to-person transmission. Limited data are available for asymptomatic infections. This study aims to present the clinical characteristics of 24 cases with asymptomatic infection screened from close contacts and to show the transmission potential of asymptomatic COVID-19 virus carriers. Epidemiological investigations were conducted among all close contacts of COVID-19 patients (or suspected patients) in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China, from Jan 28 to Feb 9, 2020, both in clinic and in community. Asymptomatic carriers were laboratory-confirmed positive for the COVID-19 virus by testing the nucleic acid of the pharyngeal swab samples. Their clinical records, laboratory assessments, and chest CT scans were reviewed. As a result, none of the 24 asymptomatic cases presented any obvious symptoms while nucleic acid screening. Five cases (20.8%) developed symptoms (fever, cough, fatigue, etc.) during hospitalization. Twelve (50.0%) cases showed typical CT images of ground-glass chest and 5 (20.8%) presented stripe shadowing in the lungs. The remaining 7 (29.2%) cases showed normal CT image and had no symptoms during hospitalization. These 7 cases were younger (median age: 14.0 years; P=0.012) than the rest. None of the 24 cases developed severe COVID-19 pneumonia or died. The median communicable period, defined as the interval from the first day of positive nucleic acid tests to the first day of continuous negative tests, was 9.5 days (up to 21 days among the 24 asymptomatic cases). Through epidemiological investigation, we observed a typical asymptomatic transmission to the cohabiting family members, which even caused severe COVID-19 pneumonia. Overall, the asymptomatic carriers identified from close contacts were prone to be mildly ill during hospitalization. However, the communicable period could be up to three weeks and the communicated patients could develop severe illness. These results highlighted the importance of close contact tracing and longitudinally surveillance via virus nucleic acid tests. Further isolation recommendation and continuous nucleic acid tests may also be recommended to the patients discharged.


The glycerol utilization (gyl) operon is involved in clavulanic acid (CA) production by Streptomyces clavuligerus, and possibly supplies the glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate (G3P) precursor for CA biosynthesis. The gyl operon is regulated by GylR and is induced by glycerol. To enhance CA production in S. clavuligerus, an extra copy of ccaR expressed from Pgyl (the gyl promoter) was integrated into the chromosome of S. clavuligerus NRRL 3585. This construct coordinated the transcription of CA biosynthetic pathway genes with expression of the gyl operon. In the transformants carrying the Pgyl-controlled regulatory gene ccaR, CA production was enhanced 3.19-fold in glycerol-enriched batch cultures, relative to the control strain carrying an extra copy of ccaR controlled by its own promoter (PccaR). Consistent with enhanced CA production, the transcription levels of ccaR, ceas2 and claR were significantly up-regulated in the transformants containing Pgyl-controlled ccaR.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Gene expression, Bacteria, Amino acid, Clavulanic acid, Streptomyces clavuligerus


Soybean (Glycine max) is a facultative short-day plant with a sensitive photoperiod perception and reaction system, which allows it to adjust its physiological state and gene regulatory networks to seasonal and diurnal changes in environmental conditions. In the past few decades, soybean cultivation has spread from East Asia to areas throughout the world. Biologists and breeders must now confront the challenge of understanding the molecular mechanism of soybean photoperiodism and improving agronomic traits to enable this important crop to adapt to geographical and environmental changes. In this review, we summarize the genetic regulatory network underlying photoperiodic responses in soybean. Genomic and genetic studies have revealed that the circadian clock, in conjunction with the light perception pathways, regulates photoperiodic flowering. Here, we provide an annotated list of 844 candidate flowering genes in soybean, with their putative biological functions. Many photoperiod-related genes have been intensively selected during domestication and crop improvement. Finally, we describe recent progress in engineering photoperiod-responsive genes for improving agronomic traits to enhance geographic adaptation in soybean, as well as future prospects for research on soybean photoperiodic responses.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Biology, Circadian rhythm, Chronobiology, Circadian rhythms, Photoperiodism, Cryptochrome


Verticillium wilt disease becomes a major threat to many economically important crops. It is unclear whether and how plant immunity takes place during cotton-Verticillium interaction due to the lack of marker genes. Taking advantage of cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) genome, we discovered pathogenesis-related (PR) gene families, which have been widely used as markers of immune responses in plants. To profile the expression of G. hirsutum PR genes in the process of plant immunity, we treated cotton roots with two immunogenic peptides, flg22 and nlp20 known as pathogen-associated molecular patterns, as well as three Verticillium dahliae-derived peptides, nlp20(Vd2), nlp23(Vd3), and nlp23(Vd4) which are highly identical to nlp20. Quantitative real-time PCR results revealed that 14 G. hirsutum PR gene (GhPR) families were induced or suppressed independently in response to flg22, nlp20, nlp20(Vd2), nlp23(Vd3), and nlp23(Vd4). Most GhPR genes are expressed highest at 3 h post incubation of immunogenic peptides. Compared to flg22 and nlp20, nlp20(Vd2) is more effective to trigger up-regulated expression of GhPR genes. Notably, both nlp23(Vd3) and nlp23(Vd4) are able to induce GhPR gene up-regulation, although they do not induce necrosis on cotton leaves. Thus, our results provide marker genes and new immunogenic peptides for further investigation of cotton-V. dahliae interaction.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Bacteria, Polymerase chain reaction, Molecular biology, Organism


Verticillium dahliae is a soil-borne phytopathogenic fungus that causes vascular wilt disease in a broad range of hosts. This pathogen survives for many years in soil in the form of melanized microsclerotia. To investigate the melanin synthesis in V. dahliae, we identified a polyketide synthase gene in V. dahliae, namely VdPKS1. PKS1 is known to involve in the dihydroxynaphthalene melanin synthesis pathway in many fungi. We found that VdPKS1 was required for melanin formation but not for microsclerotial production in V. dahliae. The VdPKS1 gene-disruption mutant (vdpks1) formed melanin-deficient albino microsclerotia, which did not affect the fungal colonization in host tissues but significantly reduced the disease severity. Gene transcription analysis in the wild-type and the vdpks1 strains suggested that VdPKS1 gene-disruption influenced the expression of a series of genes involved in ethylene biosynthesis, microsclerotial formation and pathogenesis. Our results suggest that the VdPKS1-mediated melanin synthesis is important for virulence and developmental traits of V. dahliae.

Concepts: HIV, DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Bacteria, Transcription, Fungus, Melanin


Increasing the self-resistance levels of Streptomyces is an effective strategy to improve the production of antibiotics. To increase the oxytetracycline (OTC) production in Streptomyces rimosus, we investigated the cooperative effect of three co-overexpressing OTC resistance genes: one gene encodes a ribosomal protection protein (otrA) and the other two express efflux proteins (otrB and otrC). Results indicated that combinational overexpression of otrA, otrB, and otrC (MKABC) exerted a synergetic effect. OTC production increased by 179% in the recombinant strain compared with that of the wild-type strain M4018. The resistance level to OTC was increased by approximately two-fold relative to the parental strain, thereby indicating that applying the cooperative effect of self-resistance genes is useful to improve OTC production. Furthermore, the previously identified cluster-situated activator OtcR was overexpressed in MKABC in constructing the recombinant strain MKRABC; such strain can produce OTC of approximately 7.49 g L(-1), which represents an increase of 19% in comparison with that of the OtcR-overexpressing strain alone. Our work showed that the cooperative overexpression of self-resistance genes is a promising strategy to enhance the antibiotics production in Streptomyces.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Gene expression, Bacteria, Virus, RNA, Antibiotic resistance


Functional manipulation of biosynthetic enzymes such as cytochrome P450s (or P450s) has attracted great interest in metabolic engineering of plant natural products. Cucurbitacins and mogrosides are plant triterpenoids that share the same backbone but display contrasting bioactivities. This structural and functional diversity of the two metabolites can be manipulated by engineering P450s. However, the functional redesign of P450s through directed evolution (DE) or structure-guided protein engineering is time consuming and challenging, often because of a lack of high-throughput screening methods and crystal structures of P450s. In this study, we used an integrated approach combining computational protein design, evolutionary information, and experimental data-driven optimization to alter the substrate specificity of a multifunctional P450 (CYP87D20) from cucumber. After three rounds of iterative design and evaluation of 96 protein variants, CYP87D20, which is involved in the cucurbitacin C biosynthetic pathway, was successfully transformed into a P450 mono-oxygenase that performs a single specific hydroxylation at C11 of cucurbitadienol. This integrated P450-engineering approach can be further applied to create a de novo pathway to produce mogrol, the precursor of the natural sweetener mogroside, or to alter the structural diversity of plant triterpenoids by functionally manipulating other P450s.


The outbreak of the 2019-nCoV infection began in December 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei province, and rapidly spread to many provinces in China as well as other countries. Here we report the epidemiological, clinical, laboratory, and radiological characteristics, as well as potential biomarkers for predicting disease severity in 2019-nCoV-infected patients in Shenzhen, China. All 12 cases of the 2019-nCoV-infected patients developed pneumonia and half of them developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The most common laboratory abnormalities were hypoalbuminemia, lymphopenia, decreased percentage of lymphocytes (LYM) and neutrophils (NEU), elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), and decreased CD8 count. The viral load of 2019-nCoV detected from patient respiratory tracts was positively linked to lung disease severity. ALB, LYM, LYM (%), LDH, NEU (%), and CRP were highly correlated to the acute lung injury. Age, viral load, lung injury score, and blood biochemistry indexes, albumin (ALB), CRP, LDH, LYM (%), LYM, and NEU (%), may be predictors of disease severity. Moreover, the Angiotensin II level in the plasma sample from 2019-nCoV infected patients was markedly elevated and linearly associated to viral load and lung injury. Our results suggest a number of potential diagnosis biomarkers and angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB) drugs for potential repurposing treatment of 2019-nCoV infection.


Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a most common neurodegenerative disorder, which associates with impaired cognition. Gut microbiota can modulate host brain function and behavior via microbiota-gut-brain axis, including cognitive behavior. Germ-free animals, antibiotics, probiotics intervention and diet can induce alterations of gut microbiota and gut physiology and also host cognitive behavior, increasing or decreasing risks of AD. The increased permeability of intestine and blood-brain barrier induced by gut microbiota disturbance will increase the incidence of neurodegeneration disorders. Gut microbial metabolites and their effects on host neurochemical changes may increase or decrease the risk of AD. Pathogenic microbes infection will also increase the risk of AD, and meanwhile, the onset of AD support the “hygiene hypothesis”. All the results suggest that AD may begin in the gut, and is closely related to the imbalance of gut microbiota. Modulation of gut microbiota through personalized diet or beneficial microbiota intervention will probably become a new treatment for AD.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Bacteria, Gut flora, Microbiology, Neurology, Neurodegeneration, Neurodegenerative disorders