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1.  Integrating multiple lines of evidence into historical biogeography hypothesis testing: a Bison bison case study 
One of the grand goals of historical biogeography is to understand how and why species' population sizes and distributions change over time. Multiple types of data drawn from disparate fields, combined into a single modelling framework, are necessary to document changes in a species's demography and distribution, and to determine the drivers responsible for change. Yet truly integrated approaches are challenging and rarely performed. Here, we discuss a modelling framework that integrates spatio-temporal fossil data, ancient DNA, palaeoclimatological reconstructions, bioclimatic envelope modelling and coalescence models in order to statistically test alternative hypotheses of demographic and potential distributional changes for the iconic American bison (Bison bison). Using different assumptions about the evolution of the bioclimatic niche, we generate hypothetical distributional and demographic histories of the species. We then test these demographic models by comparing the genetic signature predicted by serial coalescence against sequence data derived from subfossils and modern populations. Our results supported demographic models that include both climate and human-associated drivers of population declines. This synthetic approach, integrating palaeoclimatology, bioclimatic envelopes, serial coalescence, spatio-temporal fossil data and heterochronous DNA sequences, improves understanding of species' historical biogeography by allowing consideration of both abiotic and biotic interactions at the population level.
PMCID: PMC3896022  PMID: 24403338
ancient DNA; bison; bioclimatic envelope models; Late Quaternary; historical biogeography; palaeoclimatic reconstructions
2.  Genotyping Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms Using Different Molecular Beacon Multiplexed within a Suspended Core Optical Fiber 
Sensors (Basel, Switzerland)  2014;14(8):14488-14499.
We report a novel approach to genotyping single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) using molecular beacons in conjunction with a suspended core optical fiber (SCF). Target DNA sequences corresponding to the wild- or mutant-type have been accurately recognized by immobilizing two different molecular beacons on the core of a SCF. The two molecular beacons differ by one base in the loop-probe and utilize different fluorescent indicators. Single-color fluorescence enhancement was obtained when the immobilized SCFs were filled with a solution containing either wild-type or mutant-type sequence (homozygous sample), while filling the immobilized SCF with solution containing both wild- and mutant-type sequences resulted in dual-color fluorescence enhancement, indicating a heterozygous sample. The genotyping was realized amplification-free and with ultra low-volume for the required DNA solution (nano-liter). This is, to our knowledge, the first genotyping device based on the combination of optical fiber and molecular beacons.
PMCID: PMC4179081  PMID: 25111240
genotyping; suspended core optical fiber; molecular beacon; multiplexing; DNA detection
3.  Species-specific responses of Late Quaternary megafauna to climate and humans 
Nature  2011;479(7373):359-364.
Despite decades of research, the roles of climate and humans in driving the dramatic extinctions of large-bodied mammals during the Late Quaternary remain contentious. We use ancient DNA, species distribution models and the human fossil record to elucidate how climate and humans shaped the demographic history of woolly rhinoceros, woolly mammoth, wild horse, reindeer, bison and musk ox. We show that climate has been a major driver of population change over the past 50,000 years. However, each species responds differently to the effects of climatic shifts, habitat redistribution and human encroachment. Although climate change alone can explain the extinction of some species, such as Eurasian musk ox and woolly rhinoceros, a combination of climatic and anthropogenic effects appears to be responsible for the extinction of others, including Eurasian steppe bison and wild horse. We find no genetic signature or any distinctive range dynamics distinguishing extinct from surviving species, underscoring the challenges associated with predicting future responses of extant mammals to climate and human-mediated habitat change.
PMCID: PMC4070744  PMID: 22048313
4.  Ancient DNA reveals key stages in the formation of Central European mitochondrial genetic diversity 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2013;342(6155):257-261.
The processes which shaped modern European mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation remain unclear. The initial peopling by Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers ~42kyrs ago and the immigration of Neolithic farmers into Europe ~8kyrs ago appear to have played important roles, but do not explain present-day mtDNA diversity. We generated mtDNA profiles of 364 individuals from prehistoric cultures in Central Europe to perform a chronological study, spanning the Early Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age (5,500–1,550 cal BC). We use this transect through time to identify four marked shifts in genetic composition during the Neolithic period, revealing a key role for Late Neolithic cultures in shaping modern Central European genetic diversity.
PMCID: PMC4039305  PMID: 24115443
5.  Sequencing ancient calcified dental plaque shows changes in oral microbiota with dietary shifts of the Neolithic and Industrial revolutions 
Nature genetics  2013;45(4):450-455e1.
The importance of commensal microbes for human health is increasingly recognized1-5, yet the impacts of evolutionary changes in human diet and culture on commensal microbiota remain almost unknown. Two of the greatest dietary shifts in human evolution involved the adoption of carbohydrate-rich Neolithic (farming) diets6,7 (beginning ~10,000 years BP6,8), and the more recent advent of industrially processed flour and sugar (~1850)9. Here, we show that calcified dental plaque (dental calculus) on ancient teeth preserves a detailed genetic record throughout this period. Data from 34 early European skeletons indicate that the transition from hunter-gatherer to farming shifted the oral microbial community to a disease-associated configuration. The composition of oral microbiota remained surprisingly constant between Neolithic and Medieval times, after which (the now ubiquitous) cariogenic bacteria became dominant, apparently during the Industrial Revolution. Modern oral microbiota are markedly less diverse than historic populations, which might be contributing to chronic oral (and other) disease in post-industrial lifestyles.
PMCID: PMC3996550  PMID: 23416520
6.  Neolithic mitochondrial haplogroup H genomes and the genetic origins of Europeans 
Nature communications  2013;4:1764.
Haplogroup (hg) H dominates present-day Western European mitochondrial (mt) DNA variability (>40%), yet was less common (~19%) amongst Early Neolithic farmers (~5450 BC) and virtually absent in Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Here we investigate this major component of the maternal population history of modern Europeans and sequence 39 complete hg H mitochondrial genomes from ancient human remains. We then compare this ‘real-time’ genetic data with cultural changes taking place between the Early Neolithic (~5450 BC) and Bronze Age (~2200 BC) in Central Europe. Our results reveal that the current diversity and distribution of hg H were largely established by the Mid-Neolithic (~4000 BC), but with substantial genetic contributions from subsequent pan-European cultures such as the Bell Beakers expanding out of Iberia in the Late Neolithic (~2800 BC). Dated hg H genomes allow us to reconstruct the recent evolutionary history of hg H and reveal a mutation rate 45% higher than current estimates for human mitochondria.
PMCID: PMC3978205  PMID: 23612305
7.  AmericaPlex26: A SNaPshot Multiplex System for Genotyping the Main Human Mitochondrial Founder Lineages of the Americas 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e93292.
Phylogeographic studies have described a reduced genetic diversity in Native American populations, indicative of one or more bottleneck events during the peopling and prehistory of the Americas. Classical sequencing approaches targeting the mitochondrial diversity have reported the presence of five major haplogroups, namely A, B, C, D and X, whereas the advent of complete mitochondrial genome sequencing has recently refined the number of founder lineages within the given diversity to 15 sub-haplogroups. We developed and optimized a SNaPshot assay to study the mitochondrial diversity in pre-Columbian Native American populations by simultaneous typing of 26 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) characterising Native American sub-haplogroups. Our assay proved to be highly sensitive with respect to starting concentrations of target DNA and could be applied successfully to a range of ancient human skeletal material from South America from various time periods. The AmericaPlex26 is a powerful assay with enhanced phylogenetic resolution that allows time- and cost-efficient mitochondrial DNA sub-typing from valuable ancient specimens. It can be applied in addition or alternative to standard sequencing of the D-loop region in forensics, ancestry testing, and population studies, or where full-resolution mitochondrial genome sequencing is not feasible.
PMCID: PMC3966882  PMID: 24671218
8.  Molecular Genetic Evidence for the Place of Origin of the Pacific Rat, Rattus exulans 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91356.
Commensal plants and animals have long been used to track human migrations, with Rattus exulans (the Pacific rat) a common organism for reconstructing Polynesian dispersal in the Pacific. However, with no knowledge of the homeland of R. exulans, the place of origin of this human-commensal relationship is unknown. We conducted a mitochondrial DNA phylogeographic survey of R. exulans diversity across the potential natural range in mainland and Island Southeast Asia in order to establish the origin of this human-commensal dyad. We also conducted allozyme electrophoresis on samples from ISEA to obtain a perspective on patterns of genetic diversity in this critical region. Finally, we compared molecular genetic evidence with knowledge of prehistoric rodent faunas in mainland and ISEA. We find that ISEA populations of R. exulans contain the highest mtDNA lineage diversity including significant haplotype diversity not represented elsewhere in the species range. Within ISEA, the island of Flores in the Lesser Sunda group contains the highest diversity in ISEA (across all loci) and also has a deep fossil record of small mammals that appears to include R. exulans. Therefore, in addition to Flores harboring unusual diversity in the form of Homo floresiensis, dwarfed stegodons and giant rats, this island appears to be the homeland of R. exulans.
PMCID: PMC3956674  PMID: 24637896
The Journal of biological chemistry  2006;281(28):19772-19780.
Mammalian pyruvate dehydrogenase multi-enzyme complex (PDC) is a key metabolic assembly comprising a 60- meric pentagonal dodecahedral E2 core attached to which are 30 E1 heterotetramers and 6 E3 homodimers at maximal occupancy. Stable E3 integration is mediated by an accessory E3 binding protein (E3BP) located on each of the 12 E2 icosahedral faces. Here, we present evidence for a novel subunit organisation in which dihydrolipoamide dehydrogenase (E3) and E3BP form subcomplexes with a 1:2 stoichiometry implying the existence of a network of E3 ‘cross-bridges’ linking pairs of E3BPs across the surface of the E2 core assembly. We have also determined a low resolution structure for a truncated E3BP/E3 subcomplex using small angle xray scattering showing one of the E3BP lipoyl domains docked into the E3 active site. This new level of architectural complexity in mammalian PDC contrasts with the recently published crystal structure of human E3 complexed with its cognate subunit binding domain and provides important new insights into subunit organisation, its catalytic mechanism and regulation by the intrinsic PDC kinase.
PMCID: PMC3954457  PMID: 16679318
10.  Mitochondrial Genome Sequencing in Mesolithic North East Europe Unearths a New Sub-Clade within the Broadly Distributed Human Haplogroup C1 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e87612.
The human mitochondrial haplogroup C1 has a broad global distribution but is extremely rare in Europe today. Recent ancient DNA evidence has demonstrated its presence in European Mesolithic individuals. Three individuals from the 7,500 year old Mesolithic site of Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov, Western Russia, could be assigned to haplogroup C1 based on mitochondrial hypervariable region I sequences. However, hypervariable region I data alone could not provide enough resolution to establish the phylogenetic relationship of these Mesolithic haplotypes with haplogroup C1 mitochondrial DNA sequences found today in populations of Europe, Asia and the Americas. In order to obtain high-resolution data and shed light on the origin of this European Mesolithic C1 haplotype, we target-enriched and sequenced the complete mitochondrial genome of one Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov C1 individual. The updated phylogeny of C1 haplogroups indicated that the Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov haplotype represents a new distinct clade, provisionally coined “C1f”. We show that all three C1 carriers of Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov belong to this clade. No haplotype closely related to the C1f sequence could be found in the large current database of ancient and present-day mitochondrial genomes. Hence, we have discovered past human mitochondrial diversity that has not been observed in modern-day populations so far. The lack of positive matches in modern populations may be explained by under-sampling of rare modern C1 carriers or by demographic processes, population extinction or replacement, that may have impacted on populations of Northeast Europe since prehistoric times.
PMCID: PMC3913659  PMID: 24503968
11.  Lycopene Treatment of Prostate Cancer Cell Lines Inhibits Adhesion and Migration Properties of the Cells 
Background: Consumption of lycopene through tomato products has been suggested to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Cellular adhesion and migration are important features of cancer progression and therefore a potential target for cancer interception. In the present study we have examined the in vitro effect of lycopene on these processes.
Methods: Prostate cancer cell lines PC3, DU145 and immortalised normal prostate cell line PNT-2 were used. The adhesion assay consisted of seeding pre-treated cells onto Matrigel™, gently removing non-adherent cells and quantitating the adherent fraction using WST-1. Migratory potential was assessed using ibidi™ migration chamber inserts, in which a cell-free zone between two confluent areas was allowed to populate over time and the migration measured.
Results: 24 hour incubation of prostate cell lines with 1.15µmol/l lycopene showed a 40% reduction of cellular motility in case of PC3 cells, 58% in DU145 cells and no effect was observed for PNT2 cells. A dose related inhibition of cell adhesion to a basement membrane in the form of Matrigel™ was observed in all three cell lines and it reached statistical significance for PC3 and PNT2 cells at lycopene concentrations ≥1.15µmol/l. However, in case of DU145, only a concentration of 2.3µmol/l showed a significant reduction.
Conclusion: This in vitro investigation indicates that lycopene can influence the cell adhesion and migration properties of cancer cells at a dose which is arguably achievable in patients. The results of our study expand our understanding of a chemo preventive role of lycopene in prostate cancer.
PMCID: PMC4113588  PMID: 25076850
lycopene; prostate cancer; cell adhesion
12.  DNA capture and next-generation sequencing can recover whole mitochondrial genomes from highly degraded samples for human identification 
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) typing can be a useful aid for identifying people from compromised samples when nuclear DNA is too damaged, degraded or below detection thresholds for routine short tandem repeat (STR)-based analysis. Standard mtDNA typing, focused on PCR amplicon sequencing of the control region (HVS I and HVS II), is limited by the resolving power of this short sequence, which misses up to 70% of the variation present in the mtDNA genome.
We used in-solution hybridisation-based DNA capture (using DNA capture probes prepared from modern human mtDNA) to recover mtDNA from post-mortem human remains in which the majority of DNA is both highly fragmented (<100 base pairs in length) and chemically damaged. The method ‘immortalises’ the finite quantities of DNA in valuable extracts as DNA libraries, which is followed by the targeted enrichment of endogenous mtDNA sequences and characterisation by next-generation sequencing (NGS).
We sequenced whole mitochondrial genomes for human identification from samples where standard nuclear STR typing produced only partial profiles or demonstrably failed and/or where standard mtDNA hypervariable region sequences lacked resolving power. Multiple rounds of enrichment can substantially improve coverage and sequencing depth of mtDNA genomes from highly degraded samples. The application of this method has led to the reliable mitochondrial sequencing of human skeletal remains from unidentified World War Two (WWII) casualties approximately 70 years old and from archaeological remains (up to 2,500 years old).
This approach has potential applications in forensic science, historical human identification cases, archived medical samples, kinship analysis and population studies. In particular the methodology can be applied to any case, involving human or non-human species, where whole mitochondrial genome sequences are required to provide the highest level of maternal lineage discrimination. Multiple rounds of in-solution hybridisation-based DNA capture can retrieve whole mitochondrial genome sequences from even the most challenging samples.
PMCID: PMC3879034  PMID: 24289217
Mitochondrial DNA; Degraded DNA; Ancient DNA; DNA hybridisation; DNA enrichment; Forensic science; Next-generation sequencing
13.  Dual-acting stapled peptides target both HIV-1 entry and assembly 
Retrovirology  2013;10:136.
Previously, we reported the conversion of the 12-mer linear and cell-impermeable peptide CAI to a cell-penetrating peptide NYAD-1 by using an i,i + 4 hydrocarbon stapling technique and confirmed its binding to the C-terminal domain (CTD) of the HIV-1 capsid (CA) protein with an improved affinity (Kd ~ 1 μM) compared to CAI (Kd ~ 15 μM). NYAD-1 disrupts the formation of both immature- and mature-like virus particles in in vitro and cell-based assembly assays. In addition, it displays potent anti-HIV-1 activity in cell culture against a range of laboratory-adapted and primary HIV-1 isolates.
In this report, we expanded the study to i,i + 7 hydrocarbon-stapled peptides to delineate their mechanism of action and antiviral activity. We identified three potent inhibitors, NYAD-36, -66 and -67, which showed strong binding to CA in NMR and isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) studies and disrupted the formation of mature-like particles. They showed typical α-helical structures and penetrated cells; however, the cell penetration was not as efficient as observed with the i,i + 4 peptides. Unlike NYAD-1, the i,i + 7 peptides did not have any effect on virus release; however, they impaired Gag precursor processing. HIV-1 particles produced in the presence of these peptides displayed impaired infectivity. Consistent with an effect on virus entry, selection for viral resistance led to the emergence of two mutations in the gp120 subunit of the viral envelope (Env) glycoprotein, V120Q and A327P, located in the conserved region 1 (C1) and the base of the V3 loop, respectively.
The i,i + 7 stapled peptides derived from CAI unexpectedly target both CA and the V3 loop of gp120. This dual-targeted activity is dependent on their ability to penetrate cells as well as their net charge. This mechanistic revelation will be useful in further modifying these peptides as potent anti-HIV-1 agents.
PMCID: PMC3842668  PMID: 24237936
HIV-1; Capsid; Virus assembly; Virus entry; Stapled peptides; NMR; SPR; ITC; Drug-resistance
14.  The structure of latherin, a surfactant allergen protein from horse sweat and saliva 
Latherin is a highly surface-active allergen protein found in the sweat and saliva of horses and other equids. Its surfactant activity is intrinsic to the protein in its native form, and is manifest without associated lipids or glycosylation. Latherin probably functions as a wetting agent in evaporative cooling in horses, but it may also assist in mastication of fibrous food as well as inhibition of microbial biofilms. It is a member of the PLUNC family of proteins abundant in the oral cavity and saliva of mammals, one of which has also been shown to be a surfactant and capable of disrupting microbial biofilms. How these proteins work as surfactants while remaining soluble and cell membrane-compatible is not known. Nor have their structures previously been reported. We have used protein nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to determine the conformation and dynamics of latherin in aqueous solution. The protein is a monomer in solution with a slightly curved cylindrical structure exhibiting a ‘super-roll’ motif comprising a four-stranded anti-parallel β-sheet and two opposing α-helices which twist along the long axis of the cylinder. One end of the molecule has prominent, flexible loops that contain a number of apolar amino acid side chains. This, together with previous biophysical observations, leads us to a plausible mechanism for surfactant activity in which the molecule is first localized to the non-polar interface via these loops, and then unfolds and flattens to expose its hydrophobic interior to the air or non-polar surface. Intrinsically surface-active proteins are relatively rare in nature, and this is the first structure of such a protein from mammals to be reported. Both its conformation and proposed method of action are different from other, non-mammalian surfactant proteins investigated so far.
PMCID: PMC4043175  PMID: 23782536
latherin; horse; sweat; surfactant protein; PLUNC proteins
15.  Resonance assignments for latherin, a natural surfactant protein from horse sweat 
Biomolecular Nmr Assignments  2013;8(1):213-216.
Latherin is an intrinsically surfactant protein of ~23 kDa found in the sweat and saliva of horses. Its function is probably to enhance the translocation of sweat water from the skin to the surface of the pelt for evaporative cooling. Its role in saliva may be to enhance the wetting, softening and maceration of the dry, fibrous food for which equines are adapted. Latherin is unusual in its relatively high content of aliphatic amino acids (~25 % leucines) that might contribute to its surfactant properties. Latherin is related to the palate, lung, and nasal epithelium carcinoma-associated proteins (PLUNCs) of mammals, at least one of which is now known to exhibit similar surfactant activity to latherin. No structures of any PLUNC protein are currently available. 15N,13C-labelled recombinant latherin was produced in Escherichia coli, and essentially all of the resonances were assigned despite the signal overlap due to the preponderance of leucines. The most notable exceptions include a number of residues located in an apparently dynamic loop region between residues 145 and 154. The assignments have been deposited with BMRB accession number 19067.
PMCID: PMC3955484  PMID: 23708874
Latherin; Surfactant protein; Horse; Sweat; Saliva; Allergen; NMR
16.  Promising insights into the health related quality of life for children with severe obesity 
Childhood obesity is a growing health concern known to adversely affect quality of life in children and adolescents. The Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) pediatric measures were developed to capture child self-reports across a variety of health conditions experienced by children and adolescents. The purpose of this study is to begin the process of validation of the PROMIS pediatric measures in children and adolescents affected by obesity.
The pediatric PROMIS instruments were administered to 138 children and adolescents in a cross-sectional study of patient reported outcomes in children aged 8–17 years with age-adjusted body mass index (BMI) greater than the 85th percentile in a design to establish known-group validity. The children completed the depressive symptoms, anxiety, anger, peer relationships, pain interference, fatigue, upper extremity, and mobility PROMIS domains utilizing a computer interface. PROMIS domains and individual items were administered in random order and included a total of 95 items. Patient responses were compared between patients with BMI 85 to < 99th percentile versus ≥ 99th percentile.
136 participants were recruited and had all necessary clinical data for analysis. Of the 136 participants, 5% ended the survey early resulting in missing domain scores at the end of survey administration. In multivariate analysis, patients with BMI ≥ 99th percentile had worse scores for depressive symptoms, anger, fatigue, and mobility (p < 0.05). Parent-reported exercise was associated with better scores for depressive symptoms, anxiety, and fatigue (p < 0.05).
Children and adolescents ranging from overweight to severely obese can complete multiple PROMIS pediatric measures using a computer interface in the outpatient setting. In the 5% with missing domain scores, the missing scores were consistently found in the domains administered last, suggesting the length of the assessment is important. The differences in domain scores found in this study are consistent with previous reports investigating the quality of life in children and adolescents with obesity. We show that the PROMIS instrument represents a feasible and potentially valuable instrument for the future study of the effect of pediatric obesity on quality of life.
PMCID: PMC3598567  PMID: 23452863
Quality of life; Obesity; Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS); Child; Depression
17.  A Megafauna’s Microfauna: Gastrointestinal Parasites of New Zealand’s Extinct Moa (Aves: Dinornithiformes) 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e57315.
We perform the first multidisciplinary study of parasites from an extinct megafaunal clade using coprolites from the New Zealand moa (Aves: Dinornithiformes). Ancient DNA and microscopic analyses of 84 coprolites deposited by four moa species (South Island giant moa, Dinornis robustus; little bush moa, Anomalopteryx didiformis; heavy-footed moa, Pachyornis elephantopus; and upland moa, Megalapteryx didinus) reveal an array of gastrointestinal parasites including coccidians (Cryptosporidium and members of the suborder Eimeriorina), nematodes (Heterakoidea, Trichostrongylidae, Trichinellidae) and a trematode (Echinostomida). Parasite eggs were most prevalent and diverse in coprolites from lowland sites, where multiple sympatric moa species occurred and host density was therefore probably higher. Morphological and phylogenetic evidence supports a possible vicariant Gondwanan origin for some of the moa parasites. The discovery of apparently host-specific parasite taxa suggests paleoparasitological studies of megafauna coprolites may provide useful case-studies of coextinction.
PMCID: PMC3581471  PMID: 23451203
18.  Mitochondrial Phylogenomics of Modern and Ancient Equids 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e55950.
The genus Equus is richly represented in the fossil record, yet our understanding of taxonomic relationships within this genus remains limited. To estimate the phylogenetic relationships among modern horses, zebras, asses and donkeys, we generated the first data set including complete mitochondrial sequences from all seven extant lineages within the genus Equus. Bayesian and Maximum Likelihood phylogenetic inference confirms that zebras are monophyletic within the genus, and the Plains and Grevy’s zebras form a well-supported monophyletic group. Using ancient DNA techniques, we further characterize the complete mitochondrial genomes of three extinct equid lineages (the New World stilt-legged horses, NWSLH; the subgenus Sussemionus; and the Quagga, Equus quagga quagga). Comparisons with extant taxa confirm the NWSLH as being part of the caballines, and the Quagga and Plains zebras as being conspecific. However, the evolutionary relationships among the non-caballine lineages, including the now-extinct subgenus Sussemionus, remain unresolved, most likely due to extremely rapid radiation within this group. The closest living outgroups (rhinos and tapirs) were found to be too phylogenetically distant to calibrate reliable molecular clocks. Additional mitochondrial genome sequence data, including radiocarbon dated ancient equids, will be required before revisiting the exact timing of the lineage radiation leading up to modern equids, which for now were found to have possibly shared a common ancestor as far as up to 4 Million years ago (Mya).
PMCID: PMC3577844  PMID: 23437078
19.  Ancient DNA Reveals Prehistoric Gene-Flow from Siberia in the Complex Human Population History of North East Europe 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(2):e1003296.
North East Europe harbors a high diversity of cultures and languages, suggesting a complex genetic history. Archaeological, anthropological, and genetic research has revealed a series of influences from Western and Eastern Eurasia in the past. While genetic data from modern-day populations is commonly used to make inferences about their origins and past migrations, ancient DNA provides a powerful test of such hypotheses by giving a snapshot of the past genetic diversity. In order to better understand the dynamics that have shaped the gene pool of North East Europeans, we generated and analyzed 34 mitochondrial genotypes from the skeletal remains of three archaeological sites in northwest Russia. These sites were dated to the Mesolithic and the Early Metal Age (7,500 and 3,500 uncalibrated years Before Present). We applied a suite of population genetic analyses (principal component analysis, genetic distance mapping, haplotype sharing analyses) and compared past demographic models through coalescent simulations using Bayesian Serial SimCoal and Approximate Bayesian Computation. Comparisons of genetic data from ancient and modern-day populations revealed significant changes in the mitochondrial makeup of North East Europeans through time. Mesolithic foragers showed high frequencies and diversity of haplogroups U (U2e, U4, U5a), a pattern observed previously in European hunter-gatherers from Iberia to Scandinavia. In contrast, the presence of mitochondrial DNA haplogroups C, D, and Z in Early Metal Age individuals suggested discontinuity with Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and genetic influx from central/eastern Siberia. We identified remarkable genetic dissimilarities between prehistoric and modern-day North East Europeans/Saami, which suggests an important role of post-Mesolithic migrations from Western Europe and subsequent population replacement/extinctions. This work demonstrates how ancient DNA can improve our understanding of human population movements across Eurasia. It contributes to the description of the spatio-temporal distribution of mitochondrial diversity and will be of significance for future reconstructions of the history of Europeans.
Author Summary
The history of human populations can be retraced by studying the archaeological and anthropological record, but also by examining the current distribution of genetic markers, such as the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA. Ancient DNA research allows the retrieval of DNA from ancient skeletal remains and contributes to the reconstruction of the human population history through the comparison of ancient and present-day genetic data. Here, we analysed the mitochondrial DNA of prehistoric remains from archaeological sites dated to 7,500 and 3,500 years Before Present. These sites are located in North East Europe, a region that displays a significant cultural and linguistic diversity today but for which no ancient human DNA was available before. We show that prehistoric hunter-gatherers of North East Europe were genetically similar to other European foragers. We also detected a prehistoric genetic input from Siberia, followed by migrations from Western Europe into North East Europe. Our research contributes to the understanding of the origins and past dynamics of human population in Europe.
PMCID: PMC3573127  PMID: 23459685
20.  Resonance assignment of As-p18, a fatty acid binding protein secreted by developing larvae of the parasitic nematode Ascaris suum 
Biomolecular Nmr Assignments  2012;8(1):33-36.
As-p18 is produced and secreted by larvae of the parasitic nematode Ascaris suum as they develop within their eggs. The protein is a member of the fatty acid binding protein (FABP) family found in a wide range of eukaryotes, but is distinctive in that it is secreted from the synthesizing cell and has predicted additional structural features not previously seen in other FABPs. As-p18 and similar proteins found only in nematodes have therefore been designated ‘nemFABPs’. Sequence-specific 1H, 13C and 15N resonance assignments were established for the 155 amino acid recombinant protein (18.3 kDa) in complex with oleic acid, using a series of three-dimensional triple-resonance heteronuclear NMR experiments. The secondary structure of As-p18 is predicted to be very similar to other FABPs, but the protein has extended loops that have not been observed in other FABPs whose structures have so far been solved.
PMCID: PMC3955487  PMID: 23225165
As-p18; Fatty acid binding protein; nemFABP; Nematode; Parasite; Ascaris suum
21.  1H, 13C and 15N chemical shift assignments of Na-FAR-1, a helix-rich fatty acid and retinol binding protein of the parasitic nematode Necator americanus 
Biomolecular Nmr Assignments  2012;8(1):19-21.
The fatty acid and retinol-binding (FAR) proteins are a family of unusual helix-rich lipid binding proteins found exclusively in nematodes, and are secreted by a range of parasites of humans, animals and plants. Na-FAR-1 is from the parasitic nematode Necator americanus, an intestinal blood-feeding parasite of humans. Sequence-specific 1H, 13C and 15N resonance assignments have been obtained for the recombinant 170 amino acid protein, using three-dimensional triple-resonance heteronuclear magnetic resonance experiments. Backbone assignments have been obtained for 99.3 % of the non-proline HN/N pairs (146 out of 147). The amide resonance of T45 was not observed, probably due to rapid exchange with solvent water. A total of 96.9 % of backbone resonances were identified, while 97.7 % assignment of amino acid sidechain protons is complete. All Hα(166), Hβ(250) and Hγ(160) and 98.4 % of the Hδ (126 out of 128) atoms were assigned. In addition, 99.4 % Cα (154 out of 155) and 99.3 % Cβ (143 out of 144) resonances have been assigned. No resonances were observed for the NHn groups of R93 NεHε, arginine, Nη1H2, Nη2H2, histidine Nδ1Hδ1, Nε1Hε1 and lysine Nζ3H3. Na-FAR-1 has a similar overall arrangement of α-helices to Ce-FAR-7 of the free-living Caeorhabditis elegans, but with an extra C-terminal helix.
PMCID: PMC3955486  PMID: 23179061
Parasitic nematode; Necator americanus; Fatty-acid and retinol-binding protein; Na-FAR-1; NMR
22.  Probing Protein Sequences as Sources for Encrypted Antimicrobial Peptides 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e45848.
Starting from the premise that a wealth of potentially biologically active peptides may lurk within proteins, we describe here a methodology to identify putative antimicrobial peptides encrypted in protein sequences. Candidate peptides were identified using a new screening procedure based on physicochemical criteria to reveal matching peptides within protein databases. Fifteen such peptides, along with a range of natural antimicrobial peptides, were examined using DSC and CD to characterize their interaction with phospholipid membranes. Principal component analysis of DSC data shows that the investigated peptides group according to their effects on the main phase transition of phospholipid vesicles, and that these effects correlate both to antimicrobial activity and to the changes in peptide secondary structure. Consequently, we have been able to identify novel antimicrobial peptides from larger proteins not hitherto associated with such activity, mimicking endogenous and/or exogenous microorganism enzymatic processing of parent proteins to smaller bioactive molecules. A biotechnological application for this methodology is explored. Soybean (Glycine max) plants, transformed to include a putative antimicrobial protein fragment encoded in its own genome were tested for tolerance against Phakopsora pachyrhizi, the causative agent of the Asian soybean rust. This procedure may represent an inventive alternative to the transgenic technology, since the genetic material to be used belongs to the host organism and not to exogenous sources.
PMCID: PMC3461044  PMID: 23029273
23.  A Biochemical-Biophysical Study of Hemoglobins from Woolly Mammoth, Asian Elephant, and Humans† 
Biochemistry  2011;50(34):7350-7360.
This study is aimed at investigating the molecular basis of environmental adaptation of woolly mammoth hemoglobin (Hb) to the harsh thermal conditions of the Pleistocene Ice-ages. To this end, we have carried out a comparative biochemical-biophysical characterization of the structural and functional properties of recombinant hemoglobins (rHb) from woolly mammoth (rHb WM) and Asian elephant (rHb AE) in relation to human hemoglobins Hb A and Hb A2 (a minor component of human Hb). We have obtained oxygen equilibrium curves and calculated O2 affinities, Bohr effects, and the apparent heat of oxygenation (ΔH) in the presence and absence of allosteric effectors [inorganic phosphate and inositol hexaphosphate (IHP)]. Here, we show that the four Hbs exhibit distinct structural properties and respond differently to allosteric effectors. In addition, the apparent heat of oxygenation (ΔH) for rHb WM is less negative than that of rHb AE, especially in phosphate buffer and the presence of IHP, suggesting that the oxygen affinity of mammoth blood was also less sensitive to temperature change. Finally, 1H-NMR spectroscopy data indicates that both α1(β/δ)1 and α1(β/δ)2 interfaces in rHb WM and rHb AE are perturbed, whereas only the α1δ1 interface in Hb A2 is perturbed compared to that in Hb A. The distinct structural and functional features of rHb WM presumably facilitated woolly mammoth survival in the Arctic environment.
PMCID: PMC3160526  PMID: 21806075
24.  Useable diffraction data from a multiple microdomain-containing crystal of Ascaris suum As-p18 fatty-acid-binding protein using a microfocus beamline 
As-p18, an unusual fatty-acid-binding protein from a parasitic nematode, was expressed in bacteria, purified and crystallized. The use of a microfocus beamline was essential for data collection.
As-p18 is a fatty-acid-binding protein from the parasitic nematode Ascaris suum. Although it exhibits sequence similarity to mammalian intracellular fatty-acid-binding proteins, it contains features that are unique to nematodes. Crystals were obtained, but initial diffraction data analysis revealed that they were composed of a number of ‘microdomains’. Interpretable data could only be collected using a microfocus beamline with a beam size of 12 × 8 µm.
PMCID: PMC3412778  PMID: 22869127
fatty-acid-binding proteins; parasitic nematodes; Ascaris suum; microfocus beamlines
25.  High-Resolution Coproecology: Using Coprolites to Reconstruct the Habits and Habitats of New Zealand’s Extinct Upland Moa (Megalapteryx didinus) 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e40025.
Knowledge about the diet and ecology of extinct herbivores has important implications for understanding the evolution of plant defence structures, establishing the influences of herbivory on past plant community structure and composition, and identifying pollination and seed dispersal syndromes. The flightless ratite moa (Aves: Dinornithiformes) were New Zealand’s largest herbivores prior to their extinction soon after initial human settlement. Here we contribute to the knowledge of moa diet and ecology by reporting the results of a multidisciplinary study of 35 coprolites from a subalpine cave (Euphrates Cave) on the South Island of New Zealand. Ancient DNA analysis and radiocarbon dating revealed the coprolites were deposited by the extinct upland moa (Megalapteryx didinus), and span from at least 6,368±31 until 694±30 14C years BP; the approximate time of their extinction. Using pollen, plant macrofossil, and ancient DNA analyses, we identified at least 67 plant taxa from the coprolites, including the first evidence that moa fed on the nectar-rich flowers of New Zealand flax (Phormium) and tree fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata). The plant assemblage from the coprolites reflects a highly-generalist feeding ecology for upland moa, including browsing and grazing across the full range of locally available habitats (spanning southern beech (Nothofagus) forest to tussock (Chionochloa) grassland). Intact seeds in the coprolites indicate that upland moa may have been important dispersal agents for several plant taxa. Plant taxa with putative anti-browse adaptations were also identified in the coprolites. Clusters of coprolites (based on pollen assemblages, moa haplotypes, and radiocarbon dates), probably reflect specimens deposited at the same time by individual birds, and reveal the necessity of suitably large sample sizes in coprolite studies to overcome potential biases in diet interpretation.
PMCID: PMC3386916  PMID: 22768206

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