Major genomic deletions in independent eukaryotic lineages have led to repeated ancestral loss of biosynthesis pathways for nine of the twenty canonical amino acids1. While the evolutionary forces driving these polyphyletic deletion events are not well understood, the consequence is that extant metazoans are unable to produce nine essential amino acids (EAAs). Previous studies have highlighted that EAA biosynthesis tends to be more energetically costly2,3, raising the possibility that these pathways were lost from organisms with access to abundant EAAs in the environment4,5. It is unclear whether present-day metazoans can reaccept these pathways to resurrect biosynthetic capabilities that were lost long ago or whether evolution has rendered EAA pathways incompatible with metazoan metabolism. Here, we report progress on a large-scale synthetic genomics effort to reestablish EAA biosynthetic functionality in a mammalian cell. We designed codon-optimized biosynthesis pathways based on genes mined from Escherichia coli. These pathways were de novo synthesized in 3 kilobase chunks, assembled in yeasto and genomically integrated into a Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cell line. One synthetic pathway produced valine at a sufficient level for cell viability and proliferation, and thus represents a successful example of metazoan EAA biosynthesis restoration. This prototrophic CHO line grows in valine-free medium, and metabolomics using labeled precursors verified de novo biosynthesis of valine. RNA-seq profiling of the valine prototrophic CHO line showed that the synthetic pathway minimally disrupted the cellular transcriptome. Furthermore, valine prototrophic cells exhibited transcriptional signatures associated with rescue from nutritional starvation. This work demonstrates that mammalian metabolism is amenable to restoration of ancient core pathways, thus paving a path for genome-scale efforts to synthetically restore metabolic functions to the metazoan lineage.
So far, gene therapies have relied on complex constructs that cannot be finely controlled1,2. Here we report a universal switch element that enables precise control of gene replacement or gene editing after exposure to a small molecule. The small-molecule inducers are currently in human use, are orally bioavailable when given to animals or humans and can reach both peripheral tissues and the brain. Moreover, the switch system, which we denote Xon, does not require the co-expression of any regulatory proteins. Using Xon, the translation of the desired elements for controlled gene replacement or gene editing machinery occurs after a single oral dose of the inducer, and the robustness of expression can be controlled by the drug dose, protein stability and redosing. The ability of Xon to provide temporal control of protein expression can be adapted for cell-biology applications and animal studies. Additionally, owing to the oral bioavailability and safety of the drugs used, the Xon switch system provides an unprecedented opportunity to refine and tailor the application of gene therapies in humans.
Therapeutic proteins such as vaccines, antibodies, hormones, and cytokines are generally produced in bacteria or eukaryotic systems, including chicken eggs and mammalian or insect cell cultures, with high production yield according to well-defined regulatory guidelines ([ 1 ]). The use of plants for the production of therapeutic proteins, called molecular farming, was proposed as an alternative biomanufacturing method in 1986. The first and only plant-derived therapeutic protein for human use was approved in 2012 for the treatment of Gaucher disease. In 2019, a plant-produced influenza virus vaccine completed phase 3 clinical trials, with encouraging results ([ 2 ]). More recently, phase 3 trials for an adjuvanted plant-made vaccine (CoVLP) against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) (NCT04636697) began in March 2021. These successes have revived interest in plant-produced pharmaceuticals for human use, which could include edible drugs.
Many DNA-hypermethylated cancer genes are occupied by the Polycomb (PcG) repressor complex in embryonic stem cells (ESCs). Their prevalence in the full spectrum of cancers, the exact context of chromatin involved, and their status in adult cell renewal systems are unknown. Using a genome-wide analysis, we demonstrate that ∼75% of hypermethylated genes are marked by PcG in the context of bivalent chromatin in both ESCs and adult stem/progenitor cells. A large number of these genes are key developmental regulators, and a subset, which we call the “DNA hypermethylation module,” comprises a portion of the PcG target genes that are down-regulated in cancer. Genes with bivalent chromatin have a low, poised gene transcription state that has been shown to maintain stemness and self-renewal in normal stem cells. However, when DNA-hypermethylated in tumors, we find that these genes are further repressed. We also show that the methylation status of these genes can cluster important subtypes of colon and breast cancers. By evaluating the subsets of genes that are methylated in different cancers with consideration of their chromatin status in ESCs, we provide evidence that DNA hypermethylation preferentially targets the subset of PcG genes that are developmental regulators, and this may contribute to the stem-like state of cancer. Additionally, the capacity for global methylation profiling to cluster tumors by phenotype may have important implications for further refining tumor behavior patterns that may ultimately aid therapeutic interventions.
The enormous mammal’s lifespan variation is the result of each species’ adaptations to their own biological trade-offs and ecological conditions. Comparative genomics have demonstrated that genomic factors underlying both, species lifespans and longevity of individuals, are in part shared across the tree of life. Here, we compared protein-coding regions across the mammalian phylogeny to detect individual amino acid (AA) changes shared by the most long-lived mammals and genes whose rates of protein evolution correlate with longevity. We discovered a total of 2,737 AA in 2,004 genes that distinguish long- and short-lived mammals, significantly more than expected by chance (P = 0.003). These genes belong to pathways involved in regulating lifespan, such as inflammatory response and hemostasis. Among them, a total 1,157 AA showed a significant association with maximum lifespan in a phylogenetic test. Interestingly, most of the detected AA positions do not vary in extant human populations (81.2%) or have allele frequencies below 1% (99.78%). Consequently, almost none of these putatively important variants could have been detected by genome-wide association studies. Additionally, we identified four more genes whose rate of protein evolution correlated with longevity in mammals. Crucially, SNPs located in the detected genes explain a larger fraction of human lifespan heritability than expected, successfully demonstrating for the first time that comparative genomics can be used to enhance interpretation of human genome-wide association studies. Finally, we show that the human longevity-associated proteins are significantly more stable than the orthologous proteins from short-lived mammals, strongly suggesting that general protein stability is linked to increased lifespan.
Although the physical and mental benefits of friendships are clear, the neurobiological mechanisms driving mutual social preferences are not well understood. Studies in humans suggest friends are more genetically similar, particularly for targets within the 3′,5′-cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) cascade. Unfortunately, human studies can not provide conclusive evidence for such a biological driver of friendship given that other genetically related factors tend to co-segregate with friendship (e.g., geographical proximity). As such, here we use mice under controlled conditions to test the hypothesis that homophily in the cAMP-degrading enzyme phosphodiesterase 11A4 (PDE11A4) can dictate mutual social preference. Using C57BL/6J and BALB/cJ mice in two different behavioral assays, we showed that mice with two intact alleles of Pde11a prefer to interact with Pde11 wild-type (WT) mice of the same genetic background over knockout (KO) mice or novel objects; whereas, Pde11 KO mice prefer to interact with Pde11 KO mice over WT mice or novel objects. This mutual social preference was seen in both adult and adolescent mice, and social preference could be eliminated or artificially elicited by strengthening or weakening PDE11A homodimerization, respectively. Stereotactic delivery of an isolated PDE11A GAF-B domain to the mouse hippocampus revealed the membrane-associated pool of PDE11A-cAMP-CREB signaling specifically within the CA1 subfield of hippocampus is most critical for regulating social preference. Our study here not only identifies PDE11A homophily as a key driver of mutual social preference across the lifespan, it offers a paradigm in which other mechanisms can be identified in a controlled fashion.
Genome-embedded ribonucleotides arrest replicative DNA polymerases (Pols) and cause DNA breaks. Whether mammalian DNA repair Pols efficiently use template ribonucleotides and promote RNA-templated DNA repair synthesis remains unknown. We find that human Polθ reverse transcribes RNA, similar to retroviral reverse transcriptases (RTs). Polθ exhibits a significantly higher velocity and fidelity of deoxyribonucleotide incorporation on RNA versus DNA. The 3.2-Å crystal structure of Polθ on a DNA/RNA primer-template with bound deoxyribonucleotide reveals that the enzyme undergoes a major structural transformation within the thumb subdomain to accommodate A-form DNA/RNA and forms multiple hydrogen bonds with template ribose 2′-hydroxyl groups like retroviral RTs. Last, we find that Polθ promotes RNA-templated DNA repair in mammalian cells. These findings suggest that Polθ was selected to accommodate template ribonucleotides during DNA repair. Polθ reverse transcribes RNA by undergoing a significant conformational change and promotes RNA-templated DNA repair. Polθ reverse transcribes RNA by undergoing a significant conformational change and promotes RNA-templated DNA repair.
Temperature is a variable component of the environment, and all organisms must deal with or adapt to temperature change. Acute temperature change activates cellular stress responses, resulting in refolding or removal of damaged proteins. However, how organisms adapt to long-term temperature change remains largely unexplored. Here we report that budding yeast responds to long-term high temperature challenge by switching from chaperone induction to reduction of temperature-sensitive proteins and re-localizing a portion of its proteome. Surprisingly, we also find that many proteins adopt an alternative conformation. Using Fet3p as an example, we find that the temperature-dependent conformational difference is accompanied by distinct thermostability, subcellular localization, and, importantly, cellular functions. We postulate that, in addition to the known mechanisms of adaptation, conformational plasticity allows some polypeptides to acquire new biophysical properties and functions when environmental change endures.
RNA N6-methyladenosine (m6A) modifications are essential in plants. Here, we show that transgenic expression of the human RNA demethylase FTO in rice caused a more than threefold increase in grain yield under greenhouse conditions. In field trials, transgenic expression of FTO in rice and potato caused ~50% increases in yield and biomass. We demonstrate that the presence of FTO stimulates root meristem cell proliferation and tiller bud formation and promotes photosynthetic efficiency and drought tolerance but has no effect on mature cell size, shoot meristem cell proliferation, root diameter, plant height or ploidy. FTO mediates substantial m6A demethylation (around 7% of demethylation in poly(A) RNA and around 35% decrease of m6A in non-ribosomal nuclear RNA) in plant RNA, inducing chromatin openness and transcriptional activation. Therefore, modulation of plant RNA m6A methylation is a promising strategy to dramatically improve plant growth and crop yield.
Depression is currently the leading cause of disability around the world. We conducted an epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) in a sample of 58 depression score-discordant monozygotic twin pairs, aiming to detect specific epigenetic variants potentially related to depression and further integrate with gene expression profile data. Association between the methylation level of each CpG site and depression score was tested by applying a linear mixed effect model. Weighted gene co-expression network analysis (WGCNA) was performed for gene expression data. The association of DNA methylation levels of 66 CpG sites with depression score reached the level of P