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1.  Leaf-cutting ant fungi produce cell wall degrading pectinase complexes reminiscent of phytopathogenic fungi 
BMC Biology  2010;8:156.
Leaf-cutting (attine) ants use their own fecal material to manure fungus gardens, which consist of leaf material overgrown by hyphal threads of the basidiomycete fungus Leucocoprinus gongylophorus that lives in symbiosis with the ants. Previous studies have suggested that the fecal droplets contain proteins that are produced by the fungal symbiont to pass unharmed through the digestive system of the ants, so they can enhance new fungus garden growth.
We tested this hypothesis by using proteomics methods to determine the gene sequences of fecal proteins in Acromyrmex echinatior leaf-cutting ants. Seven (21%) of the 33 identified proteins were pectinolytic enzymes that originated from the fungal symbiont and which were still active in the fecal droplets produced by the ants. We show that these enzymes are found in the fecal material only when the ants had access to fungus garden food, and we used quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis to show that the expression of six of these enzyme genes was substantially upregulated in the fungal gongylidia. These unique structures serve as food for the ants and are produced only by the evolutionarily advanced garden symbionts of higher attine ants, but not by the fungi reared by the basal lineages of this ant clade.
Pectinolytic enzymes produced in the gongylidia of the fungal symbiont are ingested but not digested by Acromyrmex leaf-cutting ants so that they end up in the fecal fluid and become mixed with new garden substrate. Substantial quantities of pectinolytic enzymes are typically found in pathogenic fungi that attack live plant tissue, where they are known to breach the cell walls to allow the fungal mycelium access to the cell contents. As the leaf-cutting ant symbionts are derived from fungal clades that decompose dead plant material, our results suggest that their pectinolytic enzymes represent secondarily evolved adaptations that are convergent to those normally found in phytopathogens.
PMCID: PMC3022778  PMID: 21194476
2.  Genome-wide SNP identification by high-throughput sequencing and selective mapping allows sequence assembly positioning using a framework genetic linkage map 
BMC Biology  2010;8:155.
Determining the position and order of contigs and scaffolds from a genome assembly within an organism's genome remains a technical challenge in a majority of sequencing projects. In order to exploit contemporary technologies for DNA sequencing, we developed a strategy for whole genome single nucleotide polymorphism sequencing allowing the positioning of sequence contigs onto a linkage map using the bin mapping method.
The strategy was tested on a draft genome of the fungal pathogen Venturia inaequalis, the causal agent of apple scab, and further validated using sequence contigs derived from the diploid plant genome Fragaria vesca. Using our novel method we were able to anchor 70% and 92% of sequences assemblies for V. inaequalis and F. vesca, respectively, to genetic linkage maps.
We demonstrated the utility of this approach by accurately determining the bin map positions of the majority of the large sequence contigs from each genome sequence and validated our method by mapping single sequence repeat markers derived from sequence contigs on a full mapping population.
PMCID: PMC3024234  PMID: 21192788
3.  Curvature recognition and force generation in phagocytosis 
BMC Biology  2010;8:154.
The uptake of particles by actin-powered invagination of the plasma membrane is common to protozoa and to phagocytes involved in the immune response of higher organisms. The question addressed here is how a phagocyte may use geometric cues to optimize force generation for the uptake of a particle. We survey mechanisms that enable a phagocyte to remodel actin organization in response to particles of complex shape.
Using particles that consist of two lobes separated by a neck, we found that Dictyostelium cells transmit signals concerning the curvature of a surface to the actin system underlying the plasma membrane. Force applied to a concave region can divide a particle in two, allowing engulfment of the portion first encountered. The phagosome membrane that is bent around the concave region is marked by a protein containing an inverse Bin-Amphiphysin-Rvs (I-BAR) domain in combination with an Src homology (SH3) domain, similar to mammalian insulin receptor tyrosine kinase substrate p53. Regulatory proteins enable the phagocyte to switch activities within seconds in response to particle shape. Ras, an inducer of actin polymerization, is activated along the cup surface. Coronin, which limits the lifetime of actin structures, is reversibly recruited to the cup, reflecting a program of actin depolymerization. The various forms of myosin-I are candidate motor proteins for force generation in particle uptake, whereas myosin-II is engaged only in retracting a phagocytic cup after a switch to particle release. Thus, the constriction of a phagocytic cup differs from the contraction of a cleavage furrow in mitosis.
Phagocytes scan a particle surface for convex and concave regions. By modulating the spatiotemporal pattern of actin organization, they are capable of switching between different modes of interaction with a particle, either arresting at a concave region and applying force in an attempt to sever the particle there, or extending the cup along the particle surface to identify the very end of the object to be ingested. Our data illustrate the flexibility of regulatory mechanisms that are at the phagocyte's disposal in exploring an environment of irregular geometry.
PMCID: PMC3022777  PMID: 21190565
4.  Chemical genetics approach to restoring p27Kip1 reveals novel compounds with antiproliferative activity in prostate cancer cells 
BMC Biology  2010;8:153.
The cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitor p27Kip1 is downregulated in a majority of human cancers due to ectopic proteolysis by the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway. The expression of p27 is subject to multiple mechanisms of control involving several transcription factors, kinase pathways and at least three different ubiquitin ligases (SCFSKP2, KPC, Pirh2), which regulate p27 transcription, translation, protein stability and subcellular localization. Using a chemical genetics approach, we have asked whether this control network can be modulated by small molecules such that p27 protein expression is restored in cancer cells.
We developed a cell-based assay for measuring the levels of endogenous nuclear p27 in a high throughput screening format employing LNCaP prostate cancer cells engineered to overexpress SKP2. The assay platform was optimized to Z' factors of 0.48 - 0.6 and piloted by screening a total of 7368 chemical compounds. During the course of this work, we discovered two small molecules of previously unknown biological activity, SMIP001 and SMIP004, which increase the nuclear level of p27 at low micromolar concentrations. SMIPs (small molecule inhibitors of p27 depletion) also upregulate p21Cip1, inhibit cellular CDK2 activity, induce G1 delay, inhibit colony formation in soft agar and exhibit preferential cytotoxicity in LNCaP cells relative to normal human fibroblasts. Unlike SMIP001, SMIP004 was found to downregulate SKP2 and to stabilize p27, although neither SMIP is a proteasome inhibitor. Whereas the screening endpoint - nuclear p27 - was robustly modulated by the compounds, SMIP-mediated cell cycle arrest and apoptosis were not strictly dependent on p27 and p21 - a finding that is explained by parallel inhibitory effects of SMIPs on positive cell cycle regulators, including cyclins E and A, and CDK4.
Our data provide proof-of-principle that the screening platform we developed, using endogenous nuclear p27 as an endpoint, presents an effective means of identifying bioactive molecules with cancer selective antiproliferative activity. This approach, when applied to larger and more diverse sets of compounds with refined drug-like properties, bears the potential of revealing both unknown cellular pathways globally impinging on p27 and novel leads for chemotherapeutics targeting a prominent molecular defect of human cancers.
PMCID: PMC3025922  PMID: 21182779
5.  Gene transfer: anything goes in plant mitochondria 
BMC Biology  2010;8:147.
Parasitic plants and their hosts have proven remarkably adept at exchanging fragments of mitochondrial DNA. Two recent studies provide important mechanistic insights into the pattern, process and consequences of horizontal gene transfer, demonstrating that genes can be transferred in large chunks and that gene conversion between foreign and native genes leads to intragenic mosaicism. A model involving duplicative horizontal gene transfer and differential gene conversion is proposed as a hitherto unrecognized source of genetic diversity.
See research article:
PMCID: PMC3008690  PMID: 21176244
6.  Zebrafish models of the immune response: taking it on the ChIn 
BMC Biology  2010;8:148.
The zebrafish is proving to be an extremely versatile new experimental model for unraveling the mysteries of innate immunity and has considerable promise as a system for the identification of novel modulators of this crucial biological process. A rate-limiting factor, however, is the mechanical stimulus required to induce the inflammatory response. A new chemically induced inflammation assay ('ChIn' assay) published in BMC Biology obviates this requirement and seems set to accelerate progress in the field.
PMCID: PMC3008691  PMID: 21176245
7.  Horizontal acquisition of multiple mitochondrial genes from a parasitic plant followed by gene conversion with host mitochondrial genes 
BMC Biology  2010;8:150.
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is relatively common in plant mitochondrial genomes but the mechanisms, extent and consequences of transfer remain largely unknown. Previous results indicate that parasitic plants are often involved as either transfer donors or recipients, suggesting that direct contact between parasite and host facilitates genetic transfer among plants.
In order to uncover the mechanistic details of plant-to-plant HGT, the extent and evolutionary fate of transfer was investigated between two groups: the parasitic genus Cuscuta and a small clade of Plantago species. A broad polymerase chain reaction (PCR) survey of mitochondrial genes revealed that at least three genes (atp1, atp6 and matR) were recently transferred from Cuscuta to Plantago. Quantitative PCR assays show that these three genes have a mitochondrial location in the one species line of Plantago examined. Patterns of sequence evolution suggest that these foreign genes degraded into pseudogenes shortly after transfer and reverse transcription (RT)-PCR analyses demonstrate that none are detectably transcribed. Three cases of gene conversion were detected between native and foreign copies of the atp1 gene. The identical phylogenetic distribution of the three foreign genes within Plantago and the retention of cytidines at ancestral positions of RNA editing indicate that these genes were probably acquired via a single, DNA-mediated transfer event. However, samplings of multiple individuals from two of the three species in the recipient Plantago clade revealed complex and perplexing phylogenetic discrepancies and patterns of sequence divergence for all three of the foreign genes.
This study reports the best evidence to date that multiple mitochondrial genes can be transferred via a single HGT event and that transfer occurred via a strictly DNA-level intermediate. The discovery of gene conversion between co-resident foreign and native mitochondrial copies suggests that transferred genes may be evolutionarily important in generating mitochondrial genetic diversity. Finally, the complex relationships within each lineage of transferred genes imply a surprisingly complicated history of these genes in Plantago subsequent to their acquisition via HGT and this history probably involves some combination of additional transfers (including intracellular transfer), gene duplication, differential loss and mutation-rate variation. Unravelling this history will probably require sequencing multiple mitochondrial and nuclear genomes from Plantago.
See Commentary:
PMCID: PMC3022774  PMID: 21176201
8.  A high-throughput chemically induced inflammation assay in zebrafish 
BMC Biology  2010;8:151.
Studies on innate immunity have benefited from the introduction of zebrafish as a model system. Transgenic fish expressing fluorescent proteins in leukocyte populations allow direct, quantitative visualization of an inflammatory response in vivo. It has been proposed that this animal model can be used for high-throughput screens aimed at the identification of novel immunomodulatory lead compounds. However, current assays require invasive manipulation of fish individually, thus preventing high-content screening.
Here we show that specific, noninvasive damage to lateral line neuromast cells can induce a robust acute inflammatory response. Exposure of fish larvae to sublethal concentrations of copper sulfate selectively damages the sensory hair cell population inducing infiltration of leukocytes to neuromasts within 20 minutes. Inflammation can be assayed in real time using transgenic fish expressing fluorescent proteins in leukocytes or by histochemical assays in fixed larvae. We demonstrate the usefulness of this method for chemical and genetic screens to detect the effect of immunomodulatory compounds and mutations affecting the leukocyte response. Moreover, we transformed the assay into a high-throughput screening method by using a customized automated imaging and processing system that quantifies the magnitude of the inflammatory reaction.
This approach allows rapid screening of thousands of compounds or mutagenized zebrafish for effects on inflammation and enables the identification of novel players in the regulation of innate immunity and potential lead compounds toward new immunomodulatory therapies. We have called this method the chemically induced inflammation assay, or ChIn assay.
See Commentary article:
PMCID: PMC3022775  PMID: 21176202
9.  Drosophila EGFR pathway coordinates stem cell proliferation and gut remodeling following infection 
BMC Biology  2010;8:152.
Gut homeostasis is central to whole organism health, and its disruption is associated with a broad range of pathologies. Following damage, complex physiological events are required in the gut to maintain proper homeostasis. Previously, we demonstrated that ingestion of a nonlethal pathogen, Erwinia carotovora carotovora 15, induces a massive increase in stem cell proliferation in the gut of Drosophila. However, the precise cellular events that occur following infection have not been quantitatively described, nor do we understand the interaction between multiple pathways that have been implicated in epithelium renewal.
To understand the process of infection and epithelium renewal in more detail, we performed a quantitative analysis of several cellular and morphological characteristics of the gut. We observed that the gut of adult Drosophila undergoes a dynamic remodeling in response to bacterial infection. This remodeling coordinates the synthesis of new enterocytes, their proper morphogenesis and the elimination of damaged cells through delamination and anoikis. We demonstrate that one signaling pathway, the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) pathway, is key to controlling each of these steps through distinct functions in intestinal stem cells and enterocytes. The EGFR pathway is activated by the EGF ligands, Spitz, Keren and Vein, the latter being induced in the surrounding visceral muscles in part under the control of the Janus kinase/signal transducer and activator of transcription (JAK/STAT) pathway. Additionally, the EGFR pathway synergizes with the JAK/STAT pathway in stem cells to promote their proliferation. Finally, we show that the EGFR pathway contributes to gut morphogenesis through its activity in enterocytes and is required to properly coordinate the delamination and anoikis of damaged cells. This function of the EGFR pathway in enterocytes is key to maintaining homeostasis, as flies lacking EGFR are highly susceptible to infection.
This study demonstrates that restoration of normal gut morphology following bacterial infection is a more complex phenomenon than previously described. Maintenance of gut homeostasis requires the coordination of stem cell proliferation and differentiation, with the incorporation and morphogenesis of new cells and the expulsion of damaged enterocytes. We show that one signaling pathway, the EGFR pathway, is central to all these stages, and its activation at multiple steps could synchronize the complex cellular events leading to gut repair and homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC3022776  PMID: 21176204
10.  The majority of total nuclear-encoded non-ribosomal RNA in a human cell is 'dark matter' un-annotated RNA 
BMC Biology  2010;8:149.
Discovery that the transcriptional output of the human genome is far more complex than predicted by the current set of protein-coding annotations and that most RNAs produced do not appear to encode proteins has transformed our understanding of genome complexity and suggests new paradigms of genome regulation. However, the fraction of all cellular RNA whose function we do not understand and the fraction of the genome that is utilized to produce that RNA remain controversial. This is not simply a bookkeeping issue because the degree to which this un-annotated transcription is present has important implications with respect to its biologic function and to the general architecture of genome regulation. For example, efforts to elucidate how non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) regulate genome function will be compromised if that class of RNAs is dismissed as simply 'transcriptional noise'.
We show that the relative mass of RNA whose function and/or structure we do not understand (the so called 'dark matter' RNAs), as a proportion of all non-ribosomal, non-mitochondrial human RNA (mt-RNA), can be greater than that of protein-encoding transcripts. This observation is obscured in studies that focus only on polyA-selected RNA, a method that enriches for protein coding RNAs and at the same time discards the vast majority of RNA prior to analysis. We further show the presence of a large number of very long, abundantly-transcribed regions (100's of kb) in intergenic space and further show that expression of these regions is associated with neoplastic transformation. These overlap some regions found previously in normal human embryonic tissues and raises an interesting hypothesis as to the function of these ncRNAs in both early development and neoplastic transformation.
We conclude that 'dark matter' RNA can constitute the majority of non-ribosomal, non-mitochondrial-RNA and a significant fraction arises from numerous very long, intergenic transcribed regions that could be involved in neoplastic transformation.
PMCID: PMC3022773  PMID: 21176148
11.  Q&A: What is biodiversity? 
BMC Biology  2010;8:145.
PMCID: PMC3002324  PMID: 21159210
12.  How the vertebrates were made: selective pruning of a double-duplicated genome 
BMC Biology  2010;8:144.
Vertebrates are the result of an ancient double duplication of the genome. A new study published in BMC Biology explores the selective retention of genes after this event, finding an extensive enrichment of signaling proteins and transcription factors. Analysis of their expression patterns, interactions and subsequent history reflect the forces that drove their evolution, and with it the evolution of vertebrate complexity.
See research article:
PMCID: PMC3001425  PMID: 21144066
13.  2R and remodeling of vertebrate signal transduction engine 
BMC Biology  2010;8:146.
Whole genome duplication (WGD) is a special case of gene duplication, observed rarely in animals, whereby all genes duplicate simultaneously through polyploidisation. Two rounds of WGD (2R-WGD) occurred at the base of vertebrates, giving rise to an enormous wave of genetic novelty, but a systematic analysis of functional consequences of this event has not yet been performed.
We show that 2R-WGD affected an overwhelming majority (74%) of signalling genes, in particular developmental pathways involving receptor tyrosine kinases, Wnt and transforming growth factor-β ligands, G protein-coupled receptors and the apoptosis pathway. 2R-retained genes, in contrast to tandem duplicates, were enriched in protein interaction domains and multifunctional signalling modules of Ras and mitogen-activated protein kinase cascades. 2R-WGD had a fundamental impact on the cell-cycle machinery, redefined molecular building blocks of the neuronal synapse, and was formative for vertebrate brains. We investigated 2R-associated nodes in the context of the human signalling network, as well as in an inferred ancestral pre-2R (AP2R) network, and found that hubs (particularly involving negative regulation) were preferentially retained, with high connectivity driving retention. Finally, microarrays and proteomics demonstrated a trend for gradual paralog expression divergence independent of the duplication mechanism, but inferred ancestral expression states suggested preferential subfunctionalisation among 2R-ohnologs (2ROs).
The 2R event left an indelible imprint on vertebrate signalling and the cell cycle. We show that 2R-WGD preferentially retained genes are associated with higher organismal complexity (for example, locomotion, nervous system, morphogenesis), while genes associated with basic cellular functions (for example, translation, replication, splicing, recombination; with the notable exception of cell cycle) tended to be excluded. 2R-WGD set the stage for the emergence of key vertebrate functional novelties (such as complex brains, circulatory system, heart, bone, cartilage, musculature and adipose tissue). A full explanation of the impact of 2R on evolution, function and the flow of information in vertebrate signalling networks is likely to have practical consequences for regenerative medicine, stem cell therapies and cancer treatment.
PMCID: PMC3238295  PMID: 21144020
14.  Uncoupling of complex regulatory patterning during evolution of larval development in echinoderms 
BMC Biology  2010;8:143.
Conservation of orthologous regulatory gene expression domains, especially along the neuroectodermal anterior-posterior axis, in animals as disparate as flies and vertebrates suggests that common patterning mechanisms have been conserved since the base of Bilateria. The homology of axial patterning is far less clear for the many marine animals that undergo a radical transformation in body plan during metamorphosis. The embryos of these animals are microscopic, feeding within the plankton until they metamorphose into their adult forms.
We describe here the localization of 14 transcription factors within the ectoderm during early embryogenesis in Patiria miniata, a sea star with an indirectly developing planktonic bipinnaria larva. We find that the animal-vegetal axis of this very simple embryo is surprisingly well patterned. Furthermore, the patterning that we observe throughout the ectoderm generally corresponds to that of "head/anterior brain" patterning known for hemichordates and vertebrates, which share a common ancestor with the sea star. While we suggest here that aspects of head/anterior brain patterning are generally conserved, we show that another suite of genes involved in retinal determination is absent from the ectoderm of these echinoderms and instead operates within the mesoderm.
Our findings therefore extend, for the first time, evidence of a conserved axial pattering to echinoderm embryos exhibiting maximal indirect development. The dissociation of head/anterior brain patterning from "retinal specification" in echinoderm blastulae might reflect modular changes to a developmental gene regulatory network within the ectoderm that facilitates the evolution of these microscopic larvae.
PMCID: PMC3002323  PMID: 21118544
15.  Spontaneous focal activation of invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells in mouse liver and kidney 
BMC Biology  2010;8:142.
Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells differ from other T cells by their hyperactive effector T-cell status, in addition to the expression of NK lineage receptors and semi-invariant T-cell receptors. It is generally agreed that the immune phenotype of iNKT cells is maintained by repeated activation in peripheral tissues although no explicit evidence for such iNKT cell activity in vivo has so far been reported.
We used an interferon (IFN)-γ-inducible cytoplasmic protein, Irga6, as a histological marker for local IFN-γ production. Irga6 was intensely expressed in small foci of liver parenchymal cells and kidney tubular epithelium. Focal Irga6 expression was unaffected by germ-free status or loss of TLR signalling and was totally dependent on IFN-γ secreted by T cells in the centres of expression foci. These were shown to be iNKT cells by diagnostic T cell receptor usage and their activity was lost in both CD1 d and Jα-deficient mice.
This is the first report that supplies direct evidence for explicit activation events of NKT cells in vivo and raises issues about the triggering mechanism and consequences for immune functions in liver and kidney.
PMCID: PMC3016249  PMID: 21118540
16.  Software that goes with the flow in systems biology 
BMC Biology  2010;8:140.
A recent article in BMC Bioinformatics describes new advances in workflow systems for computational modeling in systems biology. Such systems can accelerate, and improve the consistency of, modeling through automation not only at the simulation and results-production stages, but also at the model-generation stage. Their work is a harbinger of the next generation of more powerful software for systems biologists.
See research article:
Ever since the rise of systems biology at the end of the last century, mathematical representations of biological systems and their activities have flourished. They are being used to describe everything from biomolecular networks, such as gene regulation, metabolic processes and signaling pathways, at the lowest biological scales, to tissue growth and differentiation, drug effects, environmental interactions, and more. A very active area in the field has been the development of techniques that facilitate the construction, analysis and dissemination of computational models. The heterogeneous, distributed nature of most data resources today has increased not only the opportunities for, but also the difficulties of, developing software systems to support these tasks. The work by Li et al. [1] published in BMC Bioinformatics represents a promising evolutionary step forward in this area. They describe a workflow system - a visual software environment enabling a user to create a connected set of operations to be performed sequentially using seperate tools and resources. Their system uses third-party data resources accessible over the Internet to elaborate and parametrize (that is, assign parameter values to) computational models in a semi-automated manner. In Li et al.'s work, the authors point towards a promising future for computational modeling and simultaneously highlight some of the difficulties that need to be overcome before we get there.
PMCID: PMC2993668  PMID: 21114874
17.  The bridge helix coordinates movements of modules in RNA polymerase 
BMC Biology  2010;8:141.
The RNA polymerase 'bridge helix' is a metastable α-helix that spans the leading edge of the enzyme active-site cleft. A new study published in BMC Biology reveals surprising tolerance to helix-disrupting changes in a region previously thought crucial for translocation, and suggests roles for two hinge-like segments of the bridge helix in coordinating modules that move during the nucleotide-addition cycle.
See Research article:
PMCID: PMC2993669  PMID: 21114873
18.  Cotton domestication: dramatic changes in a single cell 
BMC Biology  2010;8:137.
Investigations on the nature of genetic changes underpinning plant domestication have begun to shed light on the evolutionary history of crops and can guide improvements to modern cultivars. A recent study focused on cotton fiber cells tracks the dramatic genome-wide changes in gene expression during development that have accompanied selection for increased fiber yield and quality.
See Research article:
PMCID: PMC2987764  PMID: 21078209
19.  Gene expression in developing fibres of Upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) was massively altered by domestication 
BMC Biology  2010;8:139.
Understanding the evolutionary genetics of modern crop phenotypes has a dual relevance to evolutionary biology and crop improvement. Modern upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) was developed following thousands of years of artificial selection from a wild form, G. hirsutum var. yucatanense, which bears a shorter, sparser, layer of single-celled, ovular trichomes ('fibre'). In order to gain an insight into the nature of the developmental genetic transformations that accompanied domestication and crop improvement, we studied the transcriptomes of cotton fibres from wild and domesticated accessions over a developmental time course.
Fibre cells were harvested between 2 and 25 days post-anthesis and encompassed the primary and secondary wall synthesis stages. Using amplified messenger RNA and a custom microarray platform designed to interrogate expression for 40,430 genes, we determined global patterns of expression during fibre development. The fibre transcriptome of domesticated cotton is far more dynamic than that of wild cotton, with over twice as many genes being differentially expressed during development (12,626 versus 5273). Remarkably, a total of 9465 genes were diagnosed as differentially expressed between wild and domesticated fibres when summed across five key developmental time points. Human selection during the initial domestication and subsequent crop improvement has resulted in a biased upregulation of components of the transcriptional network that are important for agronomically advanced fibre, especially in the early stages of development. About 15% of the differentially expressed genes in wild versus domesticated cotton fibre have no homology to the genes in databases.
We show that artificial selection during crop domestication can radically alter the transcriptional developmental network of even a single-celled structure, affecting nearly a quarter of the genes in the genome. Gene expression during fibre development within accessions and expression alteration arising from evolutionary change appears to be 'modular' - complex genic networks have been simultaneously and similarly transformed, in a coordinated fashion, as a consequence of human-mediated selection. These results highlight the complex alteration of the global gene expression machinery that resulted from human selection for a longer, stronger and finer fibre, as well as other aspects of fibre physiology that were not consciously selected. We illustrate how the data can be mined for genes that were unwittingly targeted by aboriginal and/or modern domesticators during crop improvement and/or which potentially control the improved qualities of domesticated cotton fibre.
See Commentary:
PMCID: PMC2992495  PMID: 21078138
20.  Wing pathology of white-nose syndrome in bats suggests life-threatening disruption of physiology 
BMC Biology  2010;8:135.
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is causing unprecedented declines in several species of North American bats. The characteristic lesions of WNS are caused by the fungus Geomyces destructans, which erodes and replaces the living skin of bats while they hibernate. It is unknown how this infection kills the bats. We review here the unique physiological importance of wings to hibernating bats in relation to the damage caused by G. destructans and propose that mortality is caused by catastrophic disruption of wing-dependent physiological functions. Mechanisms of disease associated with G. destructans seem specific to hibernating bats and are most analogous to disease caused by chytrid fungus in amphibians.
PMCID: PMC2984388  PMID: 21070683
21.  A climate for contemporary evolution 
BMC Biology  2010;8:136.
A new study of divergence in freshwater fish provides strong evidence of rapid, temperature-mediated adaptation. This study is particularly important in the ongoing debate over the extent and significance of evolutionary response to climate change because divergence has occurred in relatively few generations in spite of ongoing gene flow and in the aftermath of a significant genetic bottleneck, factors that have previously been considered obstacles to evolution. Climate change may thus be more likely to foster contemporary evolutionary responses than has been anticipated, and I argue here for the importance of investigating their possible occurrence.
See Research article:
PMCID: PMC2984389  PMID: 21070684
22.  The G Protein regulators EGL-10 and EAT-16, the Giα GOA-1 and the Gqα EGL-30 modulate the response of the C. elegans ASH polymodal nociceptive sensory neurons to repellents 
BMC Biology  2010;8:138.
Polymodal, nociceptive sensory neurons are key cellular elements of the way animals sense aversive and painful stimuli. In Caenorhabditis elegans, the polymodal nociceptive ASH sensory neurons detect aversive stimuli and release glutamate to generate avoidance responses. They are thus useful models for the nociceptive neurons of mammals. While several molecules affecting signal generation and transduction in ASH have been identified, less is known about transmission of the signal from ASH to downstream neurons and about the molecules involved in its modulation.
We discovered that the regulator of G protein signalling (RGS) protein, EGL-10, is required for appropriate avoidance responses to noxious stimuli sensed by ASH. As it does for other behaviours in which it is also involved, egl-10 interacts genetically with the Go/iα protein GOA-1, the Gqα protein EGL-30 and the RGS EAT-16. Genetic, behavioural and Ca2+ imaging analyses of ASH neurons in live animals demonstrate that, within ASH, EGL-10 and GOA-1 act downstream of stimulus-evoked signal transduction and of the main transduction channel OSM-9. EGL-30 instead appears to act upstream by regulating Ca2+ transients in response to aversive stimuli. Analysis of the delay in the avoidance response, of the frequency of spontaneous inversions and of the genetic interaction with the diacylglycerol kinase gene, dgk-1, indicate that EGL-10 and GOA-1 do not affect signal transduction and neuronal depolarization in response to aversive stimuli but act in ASH to modulate downstream transmission of the signal.
The ASH polymodal nociceptive sensory neurons can be modulated not only in their capacity to detect stimuli but also in the efficiency with which they respond to them. The Gα and RGS molecules studied in this work are conserved in evolution and, for each of them, mammalian orthologs can be identified. The discovery of their role in the modulation of signal transduction and signal transmission of nociceptors may help us to understand how pain is generated and how its control can go astray (such as chronic pain) and may suggest new pain control therapies.
PMCID: PMC2996360  PMID: 21070627
23.  The nucleotide addition cycle of RNA polymerase is controlled by two molecular hinges in the Bridge Helix domain 
BMC Biology  2010;8:134.
Cellular RNA polymerases (RNAPs) are complex molecular machines that combine catalysis with concerted conformational changes in the active center. Previous work showed that kinking of a hinge region near the C-terminus of the Bridge Helix (BH-HC) plays a critical role in controlling the catalytic rate.
Here, new evidence for the existence of an additional hinge region in the amino-terminal portion of the Bridge Helix domain (BH-HN) is presented. The nanomechanical properties of BH-HN emerge as a direct consequence of the highly conserved primary amino acid sequence. Mutations that are predicted to influence its flexibility cause corresponding changes in the rate of the nucleotide addition cycle (NAC). BH-HN displays functional properties that are distinct from BH-HC, suggesting that conformational changes in the Bridge Helix control the NAC via two independent mechanisms.
The properties of two distinct molecular hinges in the Bridge Helix of RNAP determine the functional contribution of this domain to key stages of the NAC by coordinating conformational changes in surrounding domains.
PMCID: PMC2988716  PMID: 21034443
24.  Functional diversity in the color vision of cichlid fishes 
BMC Biology  2010;8:133.
Color vision plays a critical role in visual behavior. An animal's capacity for color vision rests on the presence of differentially sensitive cone photoreceptors. Spectral sensitivity is a measure of the visual responsiveness of these cones at different light wavelengths. Four classes of cone pigments have been identified in vertebrates, but in teleost fishes, opsin genes have undergone gene duplication events and thus can produce a larger number of spectrally distinct cone pigments. In this study, we examine the question of large-scale variation in color vision with respect to individual, sex and species that may result from differential expression of cone pigments. Cichlid fishes are an excellent model system for examining variation in spectral sensitivity because they have seven distinct cone opsin genes that are differentially expressed.
To examine the variation in the number of cones that participate in cichlid spectral sensitivity, we used whole organism electrophysiology, opsin gene expression and empirical modeling. Examination of over 100 spectral sensitivity curves from 34 individuals of three species revealed that (1) spectral sensitivity of individual cichlids was based on different subsets of four or five cone pigments, (2) spectral sensitivity was shaped by multiple cone interactions and (3) spectral sensitivity differed between species and correlated with foraging mode and the spectral reflectance of conspecifics. Our data also suggest that there may be significant differences in opsin gene expression between the sexes.
Our study describes complex opponent and nonopponent cone interactions that represent the requisite neural processing for color vision. We present the first comprehensive evidence for pentachromatic color vision in vertebrates, which offers the potential for extraordinary spectral discrimination capabilities. We show that opsin gene expression in cichlids, and possibly also spectral sensitivity, may be sex-dependent. We argue that females and males sample their visual environment differently, providing a neural basis for sexually dimorphic visual behaviour. The diversification of spectral sensitivity likely contributes to sensory adaptations that enhance the contrast of transparent prey and the detection of optical signals from conspecifics, suggesting a role for both natural and sexual selection in tuning color vision.
PMCID: PMC2988715  PMID: 21029409
25.  ARTEMIS stabilizes the genome and modulates proliferative responses in multipotent mesenchymal cells 
BMC Biology  2010;8:132.
Unrepaired DNA double-stranded breaks (DSBs) cause chromosomal rearrangements, loss of genetic information, neoplastic transformation or cell death. The nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ) pathway, catalyzing sequence-independent direct rejoining of DSBs, is a crucial mechanism for repairing both stochastically occurring and developmentally programmed DSBs. In lymphocytes, NHEJ is critical for both development and genome stability. NHEJ defects lead to severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) and lymphoid cancer predisposition in both mice and humans. While NHEJ has been thoroughly investigated in lymphocytes, the importance of NHEJ in other cell types, especially with regard to tumor suppression, is less well documented. We previously reported evidence that the NHEJ pathway functions to suppress a range of nonlymphoid tumor types, including various classes of sarcomas, by unknown mechanisms.
Here we investigate roles for the NHEJ factor ARTEMIS in multipotent mesenchymal stem/progenitor cells (MSCs), as putative sarcomagenic cells of origin. We demonstrate a key role for ARTEMIS in sarcoma suppression in a sensitized mouse tumor model. In this context, we found that ARTEMIS deficiency led to chromosomal damage but, paradoxically, enhanced resistance and proliferative potential in primary MSCs subjected to various stresses. Gene expression analysis revealed abnormally regulated stress response, cell proliferation, and signal transduction pathways in ARTEMIS-defective MSCs. Finally, we identified candidate regulatory genes that may, in part, mediate a stress-resistant, hyperproliferative phenotype in preneoplastic ARTEMIS-deficient MSCs.
Our discoveries suggest that Art prevents genome damage and restrains proliferation in MSCs exposed to various stress stimuli. We propose that deficiency leads to a preneoplastic state in primary MSCs and is associated with aberrant proliferative control and cellular stress resistance. Thus, our data reveal surprising new roles for ARTEMIS and the NHEJ pathway in normal MSC function and fitness relevant to tumor suppression in mesenchymal tissues.
PMCID: PMC2984387  PMID: 20979627

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