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1.  Metagenomic analysis and functional characterization of the biogas microbiome using high throughput shotgun sequencing and a novel binning strategy 
Biogas production is an economically attractive technology that has gained momentum worldwide over the past years. Biogas is produced by a biologically mediated process, widely known as “anaerobic digestion.” This process is performed by a specialized and complex microbial community, in which different members have distinct roles in the establishment of a collective organization. Deciphering the complex microbial community engaged in this process is interesting both for unraveling the network of bacterial interactions and for applicability potential to the derived knowledge.
In this study, we dissect the bioma involved in anaerobic digestion by means of high throughput Illumina sequencing (~51 gigabases of sequence data), disclosing nearly one million genes and extracting 106 microbial genomes by a novel strategy combining two binning processes. Microbial phylogeny and putative taxonomy performed using >400 proteins revealed that the biogas community is a trove of new species. A new approach based on functional properties as per network representation was developed to assign roles to the microbial species. The organization of the anaerobic digestion microbiome is resembled by a funnel concept, in which the microbial consortium presents a progressive functional specialization while reaching the final step of the process (i.e., methanogenesis). Key microbial genomes encoding enzymes involved in specific metabolic pathways, such as carbohydrates utilization, fatty acids degradation, amino acids fermentation, and syntrophic acetate oxidation, were identified. Additionally, the analysis identified a new uncultured archaeon that was putatively related to Methanomassiliicoccales but surprisingly having a methylotrophic methanogenic pathway.
This study is a pioneer research on the phylogenetic and functional characterization of the microbial community populating biogas reactors. By applying for the first time high-throughput sequencing and a novel binning strategy, the identified genes were anchored to single genomes providing a clear understanding of their metabolic pathways and highlighting their involvement in anaerobic digestion. The overall research established a reference catalog of biogas microbial genomes that will greatly simplify future genomic studies.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13068-016-0441-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4736482  PMID: 26839589
Anaerobic digestion; Biogas; Metagenomics; Next-generation sequencing; Microbial community structure; Binning; Methanogens; Archaea; Bacteria
2.  Transcriptome structure variability in Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains determined with a newly developed assembly software 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):1045.
RNA-seq studies have an important role for both large-scale analysis of gene expression and for transcriptome reconstruction. However, the lack of software specifically developed for the analysis of the transcriptome structure in lower eukaryotes, has so far limited the comparative studies among different species and strains.
In order to fill this gap, an innovative software called ORA (Overlapped Reads Assembler) was developed. This software allows a simple and reliable analysis of the transcriptome structure in organisms with a low number of introns. It can also determine the size and the position of the untranslated regions (UTR) and of polycistronic transcripts. As a case study, we analyzed the transcriptional landscape of six S. cerevisiae strains in two different key steps of the fermentation process. This comparative analysis revealed differences in the UTR regions of transcripts. By extending the transcriptome analysis to yeast species belonging to the Saccharomyces genus, it was possible to examine the conservation level of unknown non-coding RNAs and their putative functional role.
By comparing the results obtained using ORA with previous studies and with the transcriptome structure determined with other software, it was proven that ORA has a remarkable reliability. The results obtained from the training set made it possible to detect the presence of transcripts with variable UTRs between S. cerevisiae strains. Finally, we propose a regulatory role for some non-coding transcripts conserved within the Saccharomyces genus and localized in the antisense strand to genes involved in meiosis and cell wall biosynthesis.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-1045) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4302112  PMID: 25441755
Saccharomyces cerevisiae; Saccharomyces sensu-stricto; Transcriptome assembly software; Transcriptome variability; UTR; Non-coding RNA; Cell wall; Reproductive process in single-celled organism
3.  Whole-Genome Sequence of Streptococcus macedonicus Strain 33MO, Isolated from Curd of Morlacco Cheese in the Veneto Region (Italy) 
Genome Announcements  2014;2(4):e00746-14.
A genetic characterization of Streptococcus macedonicus is important to better understand the characteristics of this lactic acid bacterium, frequently detected in fermented food bacteria communities. This report presents the draft genome sequence description of strain 33MO, the first publicly available genome sequence of an Italian S. macedonicus isolate.
PMCID: PMC4125769  PMID: 25103758
4.  Genome Sequences of Four Italian Streptococcus thermophilus Strains of Dairy Origin 
Genome Announcements  2014;2(2):e00126-14.
This report describes the genome sequences of four Streptococcus thermophilus strains, namely, TH982, TH985, TH1477, and 1F8CT, isolated from different dairy environments from the Campania and the Veneto regions in Italy. These data are aimed at increasing the genomic information available on this species, which is of paramount importance for the dairy industry.
PMCID: PMC3953188  PMID: 24625867
5.  Genome Sequence of Lactobacillus fabifermentans Strain T30PCM01, Isolated from Fermenting Grape Marc 
Genome Announcements  2014;2(1):e00060-14.
Here, we report the draft genome assembly of Lactobacillus fabifermentans strain T30PCM01 isolated from grape marc. Its genome is the largest (3.58 Mbp) among Lactobacillus species and reveals an enormous potential for carbohydrate utilization and transcriptional regulation.
PMCID: PMC3931359  PMID: 24558238
6.  Genome Sequences of Streptococcus thermophilus Strains MTH17CL396 and M17PTZA496 from Fontina, an Italian PDO Cheese 
Genome Announcements  2014;2(1):e00067-14.
Here is presented the whole-genome sequences of Streptococcus thermophilus strains MTH17CL396 and M17PTZA496, isolated from fontina protected designation of origin (PDO) cheese in the Valle d’Aosta Region (Italy). S. thermophilus is a lactic acid bacterium widely present in dairy products, and these are the first publicly available genome sequences of S. thermophilus strains isolated from cheese.
PMCID: PMC3924375  PMID: 24526643
7.  Whole-Genome Sequences of Streptococcus thermophilus Strains TH1435 and TH1436, Isolated from Raw Goat Milk 
Genome Announcements  2014;2(1):e01129-13.
We report the genome sequences of two Streptococcus thermophilus strains, TH1435 and TH1436, isolated from raw goat milk devoted to the production of artisanal cheese in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in Italy. The genome sequences of these two quickly acidifying strains are the first available genome sequences of S. thermophilus strains isolated in Italy.
PMCID: PMC3894273  PMID: 24435859
8.  The transcriptional landscape of the deep-sea bacterium Photobacterium profundum in both a toxR mutant and its parental strain 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:567.
The deep-sea bacterium Photobacterium profundum is an established model for studying high pressure adaptation. In this paper we analyse the parental strain DB110 and the toxR mutant TW30 by massively parallel cDNA sequencing (RNA-seq). ToxR is a transmembrane DNA-binding protein first discovered in Vibrio cholerae, where it regulates a considerable number of genes involved in environmental adaptation and virulence. In P. profundum the abundance and activity of this protein is influenced by hydrostatic pressure and its role is related to the regulation of genes in a pressure-dependent manner.
To better characterize the ToxR regulon, we compared the expression profiles of wt and toxR strains in response to pressure changes. Our results revealed a complex expression pattern with a group of 22 genes having expression profiles similar to OmpH that is an outer membrane protein transcribed in response to high hydrostatic pressure. Moreover, RNA-seq allowed a deep characterization of the transcriptional landscape that led to the identification of 460 putative small RNA genes and the detection of 298 protein-coding genes previously unknown. We were also able to perform a genome-wide prediction of operon structure, transcription start and termination sites, revealing an unexpected high number of genes (992) with large 5′-UTRs, long enough to harbour cis-regulatory RNA structures, suggesting a correlation between intergenic region size and UTR length.
This work led to a better understanding of high-pressure response in P. profundum. Furthermore, the high-resolution RNA-seq analysis revealed several unexpected features about transcriptional landscape and general mechanisms of controlling bacterial gene expression.
PMCID: PMC3505737  PMID: 23107454
High-pressure adaptation; Deep sea; Extremophile; Transcription; Operon; RNA-seq; UTR; Vibrionaceae; Photobacterium profundum; ToxR
9.  Multi-Tasking Role of the Mechanosensing Protein Ankrd2 in the Signaling Network of Striated Muscle 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e25519.
Ankrd2 (also known as Arpp) together with Ankrd1/CARP and DARP are members of the MARP mechanosensing proteins that form a complex with titin (N2A)/calpain 3 protease/myopalladin. In muscle, Ankrd2 is located in the I-band of the sarcomere and moves to the nucleus of adjacent myofibers on muscle injury. In myoblasts it is predominantly in the nucleus and on differentiation shifts from the nucleus to the cytoplasm. In agreement with its role as a sensor it interacts both with sarcomeric proteins and transcription factors.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Expression profiling of endogenous Ankrd2 silenced in human myotubes was undertaken to elucidate its role as an intermediary in cell signaling pathways. Silencing Ankrd2 expression altered the expression of genes involved in both intercellular communication (cytokine-cytokine receptor interaction, endocytosis, focal adhesion, tight junction, gap junction and regulation of the actin cytoskeleton) and intracellular communication (calcium, insulin, MAPK, p53, TGF-β and Wnt signaling). The significance of Ankrd2 in cell signaling was strengthened by the fact that we were able to show for the first time that Nkx2.5 and p53 are upstream effectors of the Ankrd2 gene and that Ankrd1/CARP, another MARP member, can modulate the transcriptional ability of MyoD on the Ankrd2 promoter. Another novel finding was the interaction between Ankrd2 and proteins with PDZ and SH3 domains, further supporting its role in signaling. It is noteworthy that we demonstrated that transcription factors PAX6, LHX2, NFIL3 and MECP2, were able to bind both the Ankrd2 protein and its promoter indicating the presence of a regulatory feedback loop mechanism.
In conclusion we demonstrate that Ankrd2 is a potent regulator in muscle cells affecting a multitude of pathways and processes.
PMCID: PMC3189947  PMID: 22016770
10.  ALMS1-Deficient Fibroblasts Over-Express Extra-Cellular Matrix Components, Display Cell Cycle Delay and Are Resistant to Apoptosis 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e19081.
Alström Syndrome (ALMS) is a rare genetic disorder (483 living cases), characterized by many clinical manifestations, including blindness, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiomyopathy. ALMS is caused by mutations in the ALMS1 gene, encoding for a large protein with implicated roles in ciliary function, cellular quiescence and intracellular transport. Patients with ALMS have extensive fibrosis in nearly all tissues resulting in a progressive organ failure which is often the ultimate cause of death. To focus on the role of ALMS1 mutations in the generation and maintenance of this pathological fibrosis, we performed gene expression analysis, ultrastructural characterization and functional assays in 4 dermal fibroblast cultures from ALMS patients. Using a genome-wide gene expression analysis we found alterations in genes belonging to specific categories (cell cycle, extracellular matrix (ECM) and fibrosis, cellular architecture/motility and apoptosis). ALMS fibroblasts display cytoskeleton abnormalities and migration impairment, up-regulate the expression and production of collagens and despite the increase in the cell cycle length are more resistant to apoptosis. Therefore ALMS1-deficient fibroblasts showed a constitutively activated myofibroblast phenotype even if they do not derive from a fibrotic lesion. Our results support a genetic basis for the fibrosis observed in ALMS and show that both an excessive ECM production and a failure to eliminate myofibroblasts are key mechanisms. Furthermore, our findings suggest new roles for ALMS1 in both intra- and extra-cellular events which are essential not only for the normal cellular function but also for cell-cell and ECM-cell interactions.
PMCID: PMC3082548  PMID: 21541333
11.  Muscle Research and Gene Ontology: New standards for improved data integration 
The Gene Ontology Project provides structured controlled vocabularies for molecular biology that can be used for the functional annotation of genes and gene products. In a collaboration between the Gene Ontology (GO) Consortium and the muscle biology community, we have made large-scale additions to the GO biological process and cellular component ontologies. The main focus of this ontology development work concerns skeletal muscle, with specific consideration given to the processes of muscle contraction, plasticity, development, and regeneration, and to the sarcomere and membrane-delimited compartments. Our aims were to update the existing structure to reflect current knowledge, and to resolve, in an accommodating manner, the ambiguity in the language used by the community.
The updated muscle terminologies have been incorporated into the GO. There are now 159 new terms covering critical research areas, and 57 existing terms have been improved and reorganized to follow their usage in muscle literature.
The revised GO structure should improve the interpretation of data from high-throughput (e.g. microarray and proteomic) experiments in the area of muscle science and muscle disease. We actively encourage community feedback on, and gene product annotation with these new terms. Please visit the Muscle Community Annotation Wiki .
PMCID: PMC2657163  PMID: 19178689
12.  Protein evolution in deep sea bacteria: an analysis of amino acids substitution rates 
Abyssal microorganisms have evolved particular features that enable them to grow in their extreme habitat. Genes belonging to specific functional categories are known to be particularly susceptible to high-pressure; therefore, they should show some evidence of positive selection. To verify this hypothesis we computed the amino acid substitution rates between two deep-sea microorganisms, Photobacterium profundum SS9 and Shewanella benthica KT99, and their respective shallow water relatives.
A statistical analysis of all the orthologs, led to the identification of positive selected (PS) genes, which were then used to evaluate adaptation strategies. We were able to establish "Motility" and "Transport" as two classes significantly enriched with PS genes. The prevalence of transporters led us to analyze variable amino acids (PS sites) by mapping them according to their membrane topology, the results showed a higher frequency of substitutions in the extra-cellular compartment. A similar analysis was performed on soluble proteins, mapping the PS sites on the 3D structure, revealing a prevalence of substitutions on the protein surface. Finally, the presence of some flagellar proteins in the Vibrionaceae PS list confirms the importance of bacterial motility as a SS9 specific adaptation strategy.
The approach presented in this paper is suitable for identifying molecular adaptations to particular environmental conditions. The statistical method takes into account differences in the ratio between non-synonymous to synonymous substitutions, thus allowing the detection of the genes that underwent positive selection. We found that positive selection in deep-sea adapted bacteria targets a wide range of functions, for example solute transport, protein translocation, DNA synthesis and motility. From these data clearly emerges an involvement of the transport and metabolism processes in the deep-sea adaptation strategy of both bathytypes considered, whereas the adaptation of other biological processes seems to be specific to either one or the other. An important role is hypothesized for five PS genes belonging to the transport category that had been previously identified as differentially expressed in microarray experiments. Strikingly, structural mapping of PS sites performed independently on membrane and soluble proteins revealed that residues under positive selection tend to occur in specific protein regions.
PMCID: PMC2600651  PMID: 19014525
13.  Genes involved in TGFβ1-driven epithelial-mesenchymal transition of renal epithelial cells are topologically related in the human interactome map 
BMC Genomics  2007;8:383.
Understanding how mesenchymal cells arise from epithelial cells could have a strong impact in unveiling mechanisms of epithelial cell plasticity underlying kidney regeneration and repair.
In primary human tubular epithelial cells (HUTEC) under different TGFβ1 concentrations we had observed epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) but not epithelial-myofibroblast transdifferentiation. We hypothesized that the process triggered by TGFβ1 could be a dedifferentiation event. The purpose of this study is to comprehensively delineate genetic programs associated with TGFβ1-driven EMT in our in vitro model using gene expression profile on large-scale oligonucleotide microarrays.
In HUTEC under TGFβ1 stimulus, 977 genes were found differentially expressed. Thirty genes were identified whose expression depended directly on TGFβ1 concentration. By mapping the differentially expressed genes in the Human Interactome Map using Cytoscape software, we identified a single scale-free network consisting of 2630 interacting proteins and containing 449 differentially expressed proteins. We identified 27 hub proteins in the interactome with more than 29 edges incident on them and encoded by differentially expressed genes. The Gene Ontology analysis showed an excess of up-regulated proteins involved in biological processes, such as "morphogenesis", "cell fate determination" and "regulation of development", and the most up-regulated genes belonged to these categories. In addition, 267 genes were mapped to the KEGG pathways and 14 pathways with more than nine differentially expressed genes were identified. In our model, Smad signaling was not the TGFβ1 action effector; instead, the engagement of RAS/MAPK signaling pathway seems mainly to regulate genes involved in the cell cycle and proliferation/apoptosis.
Our present findings support the hypothesis that context-dependent EMT generated in our model by TGFβ1 might be the outcome of a dedifferentiation. In fact: 1) the principal biological categories involved in the process concern morphogenesis and development; 2) the most up-regulated genes belong to these categories; and, finally, 3) some intracellular pathways are involved, whose engagement during kidney development and nephrogenesis is well known. These long-term effects of TGFβ1 in HUTEC involve genes that are highly interconnected, thereby generating a scale-free network that we named the "TGFβ1 interactome", whose hubs represent proteins that may have a crucial role for HUTEC in response to TGFβ1.
PMCID: PMC2174485  PMID: 17953753
14.  A global gene evolution analysis on Vibrionaceae family using phylogenetic profile 
BMC Bioinformatics  2007;8(Suppl 1):S23.
Vibrionaceae represent a significant portion of the cultivable heterotrophic sea bacteria; they strongly affect nutrient cycling and some species are devastating pathogens.
In this work we propose an improved phylogenetic profile analysis on 14 Vibrionaceae genomes, to study the evolution of this family on the basis of gene content.
The phylogenetic profile is based on the observation that genes involved in the same process (e.g. metabolic pathway or structural complex) tend to be concurrently present or absent within different genomes. This allows the prediction of hypothetical functions on the basis of a shared phylogenetic profiles. Moreover this approach is useful to identify putative laterally transferred elements on the basis of their presence on distantly phylogenetically related bacteria.
Vibrionaceae ORFs were aligned against all the available bacterial proteomes. Phylogenetic profile is defined as an array of distances, based on aminoacid substitution matrixes, from single genes to all their orthologues. Final phylogenetic profiles, derived from non-redundant list of all ORFs, was defined as the median of all the profiles belonging to the cluster. The resulting phylogenetic profiles matrix contains gene clusters on the rows and organisms on the columns.
Cluster analysis identified groups of "core genes" with a widespread high similarity across all the organisms and several clusters that contain genes homologous only to a limited set of organisms. On each of these clusters, COG class enrichment has been calculated. The analysis reveals that clusters of core genes have the highest number of enriched classes, while the others are enriched just for few of them like DNA replication, recombination and repair.
We found that mobile elements have heterogeneous profiles not only across the entire set of organisms, but also within Vibrionaceae; this confirms their great influence on bacteria evolution even inside the same family. Furthermore, several hypothetical proteins highly correlate with mobile elements profiles suggesting a possible horizontal transfer mechanism for the evolution of these genes. Finally, we suggested the putative role of some ORFs having an unknown function on the basis of their phylogenetic profile similarity to well characterized genes.
PMCID: PMC1885853  PMID: 17430568
15.  Laterally transferred elements and high pressure adaptation in Photobacterium profundum strains 
BMC Genomics  2005;6:122.
Oceans cover approximately 70% of the Earth's surface with an average depth of 3800 m and a pressure of 38 MPa, thus a large part of the biosphere is occupied by high pressure environments. Piezophilic (pressure-loving) organisms are adapted to deep-sea life and grow optimally at pressures higher than 0.1 MPa. To better understand high pressure adaptation from a genomic point of view three different Photobacterium profundum strains were compared. Using the sequenced piezophile P. profundum strain SS9 as a reference, microarray technology was used to identify the genomic regions missing in two other strains: a pressure adapted strain (named DSJ4) and a pressure-sensitive strain (named 3TCK). Finally, the transcriptome of SS9 grown under different pressure (28 MPa; 45 MPa) and temperature (4°C; 16°C) conditions was analyzed taking into consideration the differentially expressed genes belonging to the flexible gene pool.
These studies indicated the presence of a large flexible gene pool in SS9 characterized by various horizontally acquired elements. This was verified by extensive analysis of GC content, codon usage and genomic signature of the SS9 genome. 171 open reading frames (ORFs) were found to be specifically absent or highly divergent in the piezosensitive strain, but present in the two piezophilic strains. Among these genes, six were found to also be up-regulated by high pressure.
These data provide information on horizontal gene flow in the deep sea, provide additional details of P. profundum genome expression patterns and suggest genes which could perform critical functions for abyssal survival, including perhaps high pressure growth.
PMCID: PMC1239915  PMID: 16162277

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