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1.  Putative roles of purinergic signaling in human immunodeficiency virus-1 infection 
Biology Direct  2014;9:21.
This article was reviewed by Neil S. Greenspan and Rachel Gerstein.
Nucleotides and nucleosides act as potent extracellular messengers via the activation of the family of cell-surface receptors termed purinergic receptors. These receptors are categorized into P1 and P2 receptors (P2Rs). P2Rs are further classified into two distinct families, P2X receptors (P2XRs) and P2Y receptors (P2YRs). These receptors display broad tissue distribution throughout the body and are involved in several biological events. Immune cells express various P2Rs, and purinergic signaling mechanisms have been shown to play key roles in the regulation of many aspects of immune responses. Researchers have elucidated the involvement of these receptors in the host response to infections. The evidences indicate a dual function of these receptors, depending on the microorganism and the cellular model involved. Three recent reports have examined the relationship between the level of extracellular ATP, the mechanisms underlying purinergic receptors participating in the infection mechanism of HIV-1 in the cell. Although preliminary, these results indicate that purinergic receptors are putative pharmacological targets that should be further explored in future studies.
PMCID: PMC4218944  PMID: 25351961
P2X7R; HIV-1 infection; Antagonists; Pharmacological targets
2.  Parallel universes of Black Six biology 
Biology Direct  2014;9:18.
Creation of lethal and synthetic lethal mutations in an experimental organism is a cornerstone of genetic dissection of gene function, and is related to the concept of an essential gene. Common inbred mouse strains carry background mutations, which can act as genetic modifiers, interfering with the assignment of gene essentiality. The inbred strain C57BL/6J, commonly known as “Black Six”, stands out, as it carries a spontaneous homozygous deletion in the nicotinamide nucleotide transhydrogenase (Nnt) gene [GenBank: AH009385.2], resulting in impairment of steroidogenic mitochondria of the adrenal gland, and a multitude of indirect modifier effects, coming from alteration of glucocorticoid-regulated processes. Over time, the popular strain has been used, by means of gene targeting technology, to assign “essential” and “redundant” qualifiers to numerous genes, thus creating an internally consistent “parallel universe” of knowledge. It is unrealistic to suggest phasing-out of this strain, given the scope of shared resources built around it, however, continuing on the road of “strain-unawareness” will result in profound waste of effort, particularly where translational research is concerned. The review analyzes the historical roots of this phenomenon and proposes that building of “parallel universes” should be urgently made visible to a critical reader by obligatory use of unambiguous and persistent tags in publications and databases, such as hypertext links, pointing to a vendor’s strain description web page, or to a digital object identifier (d.o.i.) of the original publication, so that any research done exclusively in C57BL/6J, could be easily identified.
This article was reviewed by Dr. Neil Smalheiser and Dr. Miguel Andrade-Navarro.
PMCID: PMC4108611  PMID: 25038798
Mouse; Inbred strain; C57BL/6J; Synthetic lethality; Gene interaction; Essential gene; Nicotinamide nucleotide transhydrogenase; Mitochondria; Glucocorticoid hormone; Adrenal gland
3.  Profiling the orphan enzymes 
Biology Direct  2014;9:10.
The emergence of Next Generation Sequencing generates an incredible amount of sequence and great potential for new enzyme discovery. Despite this huge amount of data and the profusion of bioinformatic methods for function prediction, a large part of known enzyme activities is still lacking an associated protein sequence. These particular activities are called “orphan enzymes”. The present review proposes an update of previous surveys on orphan enzymes by mining the current content of public databases. While the percentage of orphan enzyme activities has decreased from 38% to 22% in ten years, there are still more than 1,000 orphans among the 5,000 entries of the Enzyme Commission (EC) classification. Taking into account all the reactions present in metabolic databases, this proportion dramatically increases to reach nearly 50% of orphans and many of them are not associated to a known pathway. We extended our survey to “local orphan enzymes” that are activities which have no representative sequence in a given clade, but have at least one in organisms belonging to other clades. We observe an important bias in Archaea and find that in general more than 30% of the EC activities have incomplete sequence information in at least one superkingdom. To estimate if candidate proteins for local orphans could be retrieved by homology search, we applied a simple strategy based on the PRIAM software and noticed that candidates may be proposed for an important fraction of local orphan enzymes. Finally, by studying relation between protein domains and catalyzed activities, it appears that newly discovered enzymes are mostly associated with already known enzyme domains. Thus, the exploration of the promiscuity and the multifunctional aspect of known enzyme families may solve part of the orphan enzyme issue. We conclude this review with a presentation of recent initiatives in finding proteins for orphan enzymes and in extending the enzyme world by the discovery of new activities.
This article was reviewed by Michael Galperin, Daniel Haft and Daniel Kahn.
PMCID: PMC4084501  PMID: 24906382
Orphan enzyme activities; Enzyme discovery; Metabolic pathways; Enzyme promiscuity; Data survey; Biological databases; Local orphan enzymes
4.  A survey of motif finding Web tools for detecting binding site motifs in ChIP-Seq data 
Biology Direct  2014;9:4.
ChIP-Seq (chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing) has provided the advantage for finding motifs as ChIP-Seq experiments narrow down the motif finding to binding site locations. Recent motif finding tools facilitate the motif detection by providing user-friendly Web interface. In this work, we reviewed nine motif finding Web tools that are capable for detecting binding site motifs in ChIP-Seq data. We showed each motif finding Web tool has its own advantages for detecting motifs that other tools may not discover. We recommended the users to use multiple motif finding Web tools that implement different algorithms for obtaining significant motifs, overlapping resemble motifs, and non-overlapping motifs. Finally, we provided our suggestions for future development of motif finding Web tool that better assists researchers for finding motifs in ChIP-Seq data.
This article was reviewed by Prof. Sandor Pongor, Dr. Yuriy Gusev, and Dr. Shyam Prabhakar (nominated by Prof. Limsoon Wong).
PMCID: PMC4022013  PMID: 24555784
Motif finding Web tool; Peak calling; Binding site; Over-represented motif; ChIP-Seq
5.  Input-output relations in biological systems: measurement, information and the Hill equation 
Biology Direct  2013;8:31.
Biological systems produce outputs in response to variable inputs. Input-output relations tend to follow a few regular patterns. For example, many chemical processes follow the S-shaped Hill equation relation between input concentrations and output concentrations. That Hill equation pattern contradicts the fundamental Michaelis-Menten theory of enzyme kinetics. I use the discrepancy between the expected Michaelis-Menten process of enzyme kinetics and the widely observed Hill equation pattern of biological systems to explore the general properties of biological input-output relations. I start with the various processes that could explain the discrepancy between basic chemistry and biological pattern. I then expand the analysis to consider broader aspects that shape biological input-output relations. Key aspects include the input-output processing by component subsystems and how those components combine to determine the system’s overall input-output relations. That aggregate structure often imposes strong regularity on underlying disorder. Aggregation imposes order by dissipating information as it flows through the components of a system. The dissipation of information may be evaluated by the analysis of measurement and precision, explaining why certain common scaling patterns arise so frequently in input-output relations. I discuss how aggregation, measurement and scale provide a framework for understanding the relations between pattern and process. The regularity imposed by those broader structural aspects sets the contours of variation in biology. Thus, biological design will also tend to follow those contours. Natural selection may act primarily to modulate system properties within those broad constraints.
This article was reviewed by Eugene Koonin, Georg Luebeck and Sergei Maslov.
PMCID: PMC4028817  PMID: 24308849
Biological design; Cellular biochemistry; Cellular sensors; Measurement theory; Information theory; Natural selection; Signal processing
6.  LINEs of evidence: noncanonical DNA replication as an epigenetic determinant 
Biology Direct  2013;8:22.
LINE-1 (L1) retrotransposons are repetitive elements in mammalian genomes. They are capable of synthesizing DNA on their own RNA templates by harnessing reverse transcriptase (RT) that they encode. Abundantly expressed full-length L1s and their RT are found to globally influence gene expression profiles, differentiation state, and proliferation capacity of early embryos and many types of cancer, albeit by yet unknown mechanisms. They are essential for the progression of early development and the establishment of a cancer-related undifferentiated state. This raises important questions regarding the functional significance of L1 RT in these cell systems. Massive nuclear L1-linked reverse transcription has been shown to occur in mouse zygotes and two-cell embryos, and this phenomenon is purported to be DNA replication independent. This review argues against this claim with the goal of understanding the nature of this phenomenon and the role of L1 RT in early embryos and cancers. Available L1 data are revisited and integrated with relevant findings accumulated in the fields of replication timing, chromatin organization, and epigenetics, bringing together evidence that strongly supports two new concepts. First, noncanonical replication of a portion of genomic full-length L1s by means of L1 RNP-driven reverse transcription is proposed to co-exist with DNA polymerase-dependent replication of the rest of the genome during the same round of DNA replication in embryonic and cancer cell systems. Second, the role of this mechanism is thought to be epigenetic; it might promote transcriptional competence of neighboring genes linked to undifferentiated states through the prevention of tethering of involved L1s to the nuclear periphery. From the standpoint of these concepts, several hitherto inexplicable phenomena can be explained. Testing methods for the model are proposed.
This article was reviewed by Dr. Philip Zegerman (nominated by Dr. Orly Alter), Dr. I. King Jordan, and Dr. Panayiotis (Takis) Benos. For the complete reviews, see the Reviewers’ Reports section.
PMCID: PMC3868326  PMID: 24034780
LINE-1; L1 retrotransposon; DNA replication; Replication timing; Epigenetics; Pluripotency; Cancer; Embryonic stem cells; Chromatin domains; Origins of replication
7.  Invasive cells in animals and plants: searching for LECA machineries in later eukaryotic life 
Biology Direct  2013;8:8.
Invasive cell growth and migration is usually considered a specifically metazoan phenomenon. However, common features and mechanisms of cytoskeletal rearrangements, membrane trafficking and signalling processes contribute to cellular invasiveness in organisms as diverse as metazoans and plants – two eukaryotic realms genealogically connected only through the last common eukaryotic ancestor (LECA). By comparing current understanding of cell invasiveness in model cell types of both metazoan and plant origin (invadopodia of transformed metazoan cells, neurites, pollen tubes and root hairs), we document that invasive cell behavior in both lineages depends on similar mechanisms. While some superficially analogous processes may have arisen independently by convergent evolution (e.g. secretion of substrate- or tissue-macerating enzymes by both animal and plant cells), at the heart of cell invasion is an evolutionarily conserved machinery of cellular polarization and oriented cell mobilization, involving the actin cytoskeleton and the secretory pathway. Its central components - small GTPases (in particular RHO, but also ARF and Rab), their specialized effectors, actin and associated proteins, the exocyst complex essential for polarized secretion, or components of the phospholipid- and redox- based signalling circuits (inositol-phospholipid kinases/PIP2, NADPH oxidases) are aparently homologous among plants and metazoans, indicating that they were present already in LECA.
Reviewer: This article was reviewed by Arcady Mushegian, Valerian Dolja and Purificacion Lopez-Garcia.
PMCID: PMC3663805  PMID: 23557484
Invasiveness; Invadopodia; Pollen tube; Neurite; GTPases; Actin, Secretory pathway
8.  Microevolutionary, macroevolutionary, ecological and taxonomical implications of punctuational theories of adaptive evolution 
Biology Direct  2013;8:1.
Punctuational theories of evolution suggest that adaptive evolution proceeds mostly, or even entirely, in the distinct periods of existence of a particular species. The mechanisms of this punctuated nature of evolution suggested by the various theories differ. Therefore the predictions of particular theories concerning various evolutionary phenomena also differ.
Punctuational theories can be subdivided into five classes, which differ in their mechanism and their evolutionary and ecological implications. For example, the transilience model of Templeton (class III), genetic revolution model of Mayr (class IV) or the frozen plasticity theory of Flegr (class V), suggests that adaptive evolution in sexual species is operative shortly after the emergence of a species by peripatric speciation – while it is evolutionary plastic. To a major degree, i.e. throughout 98-99% of their existence, sexual species are evolutionarily frozen (class III) or elastic (class IV and V) on a microevolutionary time scale and evolutionarily frozen on a macroevolutionary time scale and can only wait for extinction, or the highly improbable return of a population segment to the plastic state due to peripatric speciation.
The punctuational theories have many evolutionary and ecological implications. Most of these predictions could be tested empirically, and should be analyzed in greater depth theoretically. The punctuational theories offer many new predictions that need to be tested, but also provide explanations for a much broader spectrum of known biological phenomena than classical gradualistic evolutionary theories.
This article was reviewed by Claus Wilke, Pierre Pantarotti and David Penny (nominated by Anthony Poole).
PMCID: PMC3564765  PMID: 23324625
Speciation; Frozen plasticity; Frozen evolution; Peripatric speciation; Invasive species; Domestication; Asexual species; Genetic draft; Genetic hitchhiking; Advantage of sex; Evolutionary trends; Dead clade walking; Cambrian explosion; Origin of genera; Taxonomy
9.  Harnessing the complexity of gene expression data from cancer: from single gene to structural pathway methods 
Biology Direct  2012;7:44.
High-dimensional gene expression data provide a rich source of information because they capture the expression level of genes in dynamic states that reflect the biological functioning of a cell. For this reason, such data are suitable to reveal systems related properties inside a cell, e.g., in order to elucidate molecular mechanisms of complex diseases like breast or prostate cancer. However, this is not only strongly dependent on the sample size and the correlation structure of a data set, but also on the statistical hypotheses tested. Many different approaches have been developed over the years to analyze gene expression data to (I) identify changes in single genes, (II) identify changes in gene sets or pathways, and (III) identify changes in the correlation structure in pathways. In this paper, we review statistical methods for all three types of approaches, including subtypes, in the context of cancer data and provide links to software implementations and tools and address also the general problem of multiple hypotheses testing. Further, we provide recommendations for the selection of such analysis methods.
This article was reviewed by Arcady Mushegian, Byung-Soo Kim and Joel Bader.
PMCID: PMC3769148  PMID: 23227854
Gene expression data; Cancer data; Statistical analysis methods; Pathway methods; Correlation structure; Cancer genomics
10.  Bioinformatics clouds for big data manipulation 
Biology Direct  2012;7:43.
As advances in life sciences and information technology bring profound influences on bioinformatics due to its interdisciplinary nature, bioinformatics is experiencing a new leap-forward from in-house computing infrastructure into utility-supplied cloud computing delivered over the Internet, in order to handle the vast quantities of biological data generated by high-throughput experimental technologies. Albeit relatively new, cloud computing promises to address big data storage and analysis issues in the bioinformatics field. Here we review extant cloud-based services in bioinformatics, classify them into Data as a Service (DaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and present our perspectives on the adoption of cloud computing in bioinformatics.
This article was reviewed by Frank Eisenhaber, Igor Zhulin, and Sandor Pongor.
PMCID: PMC3533974  PMID: 23190475
Cloud computing; Bioinformatics; Big data; Data storage; Data analysis
11.  Constructive neutral evolution: exploring evolutionary theory’s curious disconnect 
Biology Direct  2012;7:35.
Constructive neutral evolution (CNE) suggests that neutral evolution may follow a stepwise path to extravagance. Whether or not CNE is common, the mere possibility raises provocative questions about causation: in classical neo-Darwinian thinking, selection is the sole source of creativity and direction, the only force that can cause trends or build complex features. However, much of contemporary evolutionary genetics departs from the conception of evolution underlying neo-Darwinism, resulting in a widening gap between what formal models allow, and what the prevailing view of the causes of evolution suggests. In particular, a mutationist conception of evolution as a 2-step origin-fixation process has been a source of theoretical innovation for 40 years, appearing not only in the Neutral Theory, but also in recent breakthroughs in modeling adaptation (the “mutational landscape” model), and in practical software for sequence analysis. In this conception, mutation is not a source of raw materials, but an agent that introduces novelty, while selection is not an agent that shapes features, but a stochastic sieve. This view, which now lays claim to important theoretical, experimental, and practical results, demands our attention. CNE provides a way to explore its most significant implications about the role of variation in evolution.
Alex Kondrashov, Eugene Koonin and Johann Peter Gogarten reviewed this article.
PMCID: PMC3534586  PMID: 23062217
Evolutionary theory; Constructive neutral evolution; Neo-Darwinism; Mutation; Evolutionary genetics; Mutation bias; Modern Synthesis
12.  Identifying the mechanisms of intron gain: progress and trends 
Biology Direct  2012;7:29.
Continued improvements in Next-Generation DNA/RNA sequencing coupled with advances in gene annotation have provided researchers access to a plethora of annotated genomes. Subsequent analyses of orthologous gene structures have identified numerous intron gain and loss events that have occurred both recently and in the very distant past. This research has afforded exceptional insight into the temporal and lineage-specific rates of intron gain and loss among various species throughout evolution. Numerous studies have also attempted to identify the molecular mechanisms of intron gain and loss. However, even after considerable effort, very little is known about these processes. In particular, the mechanism(s) of intron gain have proven exceptionally enigmatic and remain topics of considerable debate. Currently, there exists no definitive consensus as to what mechanism(s) may generate introns. Because many introns are known to affect gene expression, it is necessary to understand the molecular process(es) by which introns may be gained. Here we review the seven most commonly purported mechanisms of intron gain and, when possible, summarize molecular evidence for or against the occurrence of each of these mechanisms. Furthermore, we catalogue indirect evidence that supports the occurrence of each mechanism. Finally, because these proposed mechanisms fail to explain the mechanistic origin of many recently gained introns, we also look at trends that may aid researchers in identifying other potential mechanism(s) of intron gain.
This article was reviewed by Eugene Koonin, Scott Roy (nominated by W. Ford Doolittle), and John Logsdon.
PMCID: PMC3443670  PMID: 22963364
Intron; Intron gain; Intron evolution; Gene structure; Evolution; Mechanism
13.  Origin and evolution of spliceosomal introns 
Biology Direct  2012;7:11.
Evolution of exon-intron structure of eukaryotic genes has been a matter of long-standing, intensive debate. The introns-early concept, later rebranded ‘introns first’ held that protein-coding genes were interrupted by numerous introns even at the earliest stages of life's evolution and that introns played a major role in the origin of proteins by facilitating recombination of sequences coding for small protein/peptide modules. The introns-late concept held that introns emerged only in eukaryotes and new introns have been accumulating continuously throughout eukaryotic evolution. Analysis of orthologous genes from completely sequenced eukaryotic genomes revealed numerous shared intron positions in orthologous genes from animals and plants and even between animals, plants and protists, suggesting that many ancestral introns have persisted since the last eukaryotic common ancestor (LECA). Reconstructions of intron gain and loss using the growing collection of genomes of diverse eukaryotes and increasingly advanced probabilistic models convincingly show that the LECA and the ancestors of each eukaryotic supergroup had intron-rich genes, with intron densities comparable to those in the most intron-rich modern genomes such as those of vertebrates. The subsequent evolution in most lineages of eukaryotes involved primarily loss of introns, with only a few episodes of substantial intron gain that might have accompanied major evolutionary innovations such as the origin of metazoa. The original invasion of self-splicing Group II introns, presumably originating from the mitochondrial endosymbiont, into the genome of the emerging eukaryote might have been a key factor of eukaryogenesis that in particular triggered the origin of endomembranes and the nucleus. Conversely, splicing errors gave rise to alternative splicing, a major contribution to the biological complexity of multicellular eukaryotes. There is no indication that any prokaryote has ever possessed a spliceosome or introns in protein-coding genes, other than relatively rare mobile self-splicing introns. Thus, the introns-first scenario is not supported by any evidence but exon-intron structure of protein-coding genes appears to have evolved concomitantly with the eukaryotic cell, and introns were a major factor of evolution throughout the history of eukaryotes. This article was reviewed by I. King Jordan, Manuel Irimia (nominated by Anthony Poole), Tobias Mourier (nominated by Anthony Poole), and Fyodor Kondrashov. For the complete reports, see the Reviewers’ Reports section.
PMCID: PMC3488318  PMID: 22507701
Intron sliding; Intron gain; Intron loss; Spliceosome; Splicing signals; Evolution of exon/intron structure; Alternative splicing; Phylogenetic trees; Mobile domains; Eukaryotic ancestor
14.  Molecular musings in microbial ecology and evolution 
Biology Direct  2011;6:58.
A few major discoveries have influenced how ecologists and evolutionists study microbes. Here, in the format of an interview, we answer questions that directly relate to how these discoveries are perceived in these two branches of microbiology, and how they have impacted on both scientific thinking and methodology.
The first question is "What has been the influence of the 'Universal Tree of Life' based on molecular markers?" For evolutionists, the tree was a tool to understand the past of known (cultured) organisms, mapping the invention of various physiologies on the evolutionary history of microbes. For ecologists the tree was a guide to discover the current diversity of unknown (uncultured) organisms, without much knowledge of their physiology.
The second question we ask is "What was the impact of discovering frequent lateral gene transfer among microbes?" In evolutionary microbiology, frequent lateral gene transfer (LGT) made a simple description of relationships between organisms impossible, and for microbial ecologists, functions could not be easily linked to specific genotypes. Both fields initially resisted LGT, but methods or topics of inquiry were eventually changed in one to incorporate LGT in its theoretical models (evolution) and in the other to achieve its goals despite that phenomenon (ecology).
The third and last question we ask is "What are the implications of the unexpected extent of diversity?" The variation in the extent of diversity between organisms invalidated the universality of species definitions based on molecular criteria, a major obstacle to the adaptation of models developed for the study of macroscopic eukaryotes to evolutionary microbiology. This issue has not overtly affected microbial ecology, as it had already abandoned species in favor of the more flexible operational taxonomic units. This field is nonetheless moving away from traditional methods to measure diversity, as they do not provide enough resolution to uncover what lies below the species level.
The answers of the evolutionary microbiologist and microbial ecologist to these three questions illustrate differences in their theoretical frameworks. These differences mean that both fields can react quite distinctly to the same discovery, incorporating it with more or less difficulty in their scientific practice.
This article was reviewed by W. Ford Doolittle, Eugene V. Koonin and Maureen A. O'Malley.
PMCID: PMC3254073  PMID: 22074255
Ribosomal RNA genes; diversity, lateral gene transfer; microbial ecology; microbial evolution; evolutionary microbiology; ecological microbiology; Tree of Life
15.  A Rooted Net of Life 
Biology Direct  2011;6:45.
Phylogenetic reconstruction using DNA and protein sequences has allowed the reconstruction of evolutionary histories encompassing all life. We present and discuss a means to incorporate much of this rich narrative into a single model that acknowledges the discrete evolutionary units that constitute the organism. Briefly, this Rooted Net of Life genome phylogeny is constructed around an initial, well resolved and rooted tree scaffold inferred from a supermatrix of combined ribosomal genes. Extant sampled ribosomes form the leaves of the tree scaffold. These leaves, but not necessarily the deeper parts of the scaffold, can be considered to represent a genome or pan-genome, and to be associated with members of other gene families within that sequenced (pan)genome. Unrooted phylogenies of gene families containing four or more members are reconstructed and superimposed over the scaffold. Initially, reticulations are formed where incongruities between topologies exist. Given sufficient evidence, edges may then be differentiated as those representing vertical lines of inheritance within lineages and those representing horizontal genetic transfers or endosymbioses between lineages.
W. Ford Doolittle, Eric Bapteste and Robert Beiko.
PMCID: PMC3189188  PMID: 21936906
16.  How stands the Tree of Life a century and a half after The Origin? 
Biology Direct  2011;6:32.
We examine the Tree of Life (TOL) as an evolutionary hypothesis and a heuristic. The original TOL hypothesis has failed but a new "statistical TOL hypothesis" is promising. The TOL heuristic usefully organizes data without positing fundamental evolutionary truth.
This article was reviewed by W. Ford Doolittle, Nicholas Galtier and Christophe Malaterre.
PMCID: PMC3158114  PMID: 21714936
17.  Early evolution without a tree of life 
Biology Direct  2011;6:36.
Life is a chemical reaction. Three major transitions in early evolution are considered without recourse to a tree of life. The origin of prokaryotes required a steady supply of energy and electrons, probably in the form of molecular hydrogen stemming from serpentinization. Microbial genome evolution is not a treelike process because of lateral gene transfer and the endosymbiotic origins of organelles. The lack of true intermediates in the prokaryote-to-eukaryote transition has a bioenergetic cause.
This article was reviewed by Dan Graur, W. Ford Doolittle, Eugene V. Koonin and Christophe Malaterre.
PMCID: PMC3158116  PMID: 21714942
18.  The struggle for life of the genome's selfish architects 
Biology Direct  2011;6:19.
Transposable elements (TEs) were first discovered more than 50 years ago, but were totally ignored for a long time. Over the last few decades they have gradually attracted increasing interest from research scientists. Initially they were viewed as totally marginal and anecdotic, but TEs have been revealed as potentially harmful parasitic entities, ubiquitous in genomes, and finally as unavoidable actors in the diversity, structure, and evolution of the genome. Since Darwin's theory of evolution, and the progress of molecular biology, transposable elements may be the discovery that has most influenced our vision of (genome) evolution. In this review, we provide a synopsis of what is known about the complex interactions that exist between transposable elements and the host genome. Numerous examples of these interactions are provided, first from the standpoint of the genome, and then from that of the transposable elements. We also explore the evolutionary aspects of TEs in the light of post-Darwinian theories of evolution.
This article was reviewed by Jerzy Jurka, Jürgen Brosius and I. King Jordan. For complete reports, see the Reviewers' reports section.
PMCID: PMC3072357  PMID: 21414203
19.  The role of duplications in the evolution of genomes highlights the need for evolutionary-based approaches in comparative genomics 
Biology Direct  2011;6:11.
Understanding the evolutionary plasticity of the genome requires a global, comparative approach in which genetic events are considered both in a phylogenetic framework and with regard to population genetics and environmental variables. In the mechanisms that generate adaptive and non-adaptive changes in genomes, segmental duplications (duplication of individual genes or genomic regions) and polyploidization (whole genome duplications) are well-known driving forces. The probability of fixation and maintenance of duplicates depends on many variables, including population sizes and selection regimes experienced by the corresponding genes: a combination of stochastic and adaptive mechanisms has shaped all genomes. A survey of experimental work shows that the distinction made between fixation and maintenance of duplicates still needs to be conceptualized and mathematically modeled. Here we review the mechanisms that increase or decrease the probability of fixation or maintenance of duplicated genes, and examine the outcome of these events on the adaptation of the organisms.
This article was reviewed by Dr. Etienne Joly, Dr. Lutz Walter and Dr. W. Ford Doolittle.
PMCID: PMC3052240  PMID: 21333002
20.  Cancer models, genomic instability and somatic cellular Darwinian evolution 
Biology Direct  2010;5:19.
The biology of cancer is critically reviewed and evidence adduced that its development can be modelled as a somatic cellular Darwinian evolutionary process. The evidence for involvement of genomic instability (GI) is also reviewed. A variety of quasi-mechanistic models of carcinogenesis are reviewed, all based on this somatic Darwinian evolutionary hypothesis; in particular, the multi-stage model of Armitage and Doll (Br. J. Cancer 1954:8;1-12), the two-mutation model of Moolgavkar, Venzon, and Knudson (MVK) (Math. Biosci. 1979:47;55-77), the generalized MVK model of Little (Biometrics 1995:51;1278-1291) and various generalizations of these incorporating effects of GI (Little and Wright Math. Biosci. 2003:183;111-134; Little et al. J. Theoret. Biol. 2008:254;229-238).
This article was reviewed by RA Gatenby and M Kimmel.
PMCID: PMC2873266  PMID: 20406436
21.  Trees and networks before and after Darwin 
Biology Direct  2009;4:43.
It is well-known that Charles Darwin sketched abstract trees of relationship in his 1837 notebook, and depicted a tree in the Origin of Species (1859). Here I attempt to place Darwin's trees in historical context. By the mid-Eighteenth century the Great Chain of Being was increasingly seen to be an inadequate description of order in nature, and by about 1780 it had been largely abandoned without a satisfactory alternative having been agreed upon. In 1750 Donati described aquatic and terrestrial organisms as forming a network, and a few years later Buffon depicted a network of genealogical relationships among breeds of dogs. In 1764 Bonnet asked whether the Chain might actually branch at certain points, and in 1766 Pallas proposed that the gradations among organisms resemble a tree with a compound trunk, perhaps not unlike the tree of animal life later depicted by Eichwald. Other trees were presented by Augier in 1801 and by Lamarck in 1809 and 1815, the latter two assuming a transmutation of species over time. Elaborate networks of affinities among plants and among animals were depicted in the late Eighteenth and very early Nineteenth centuries. In the two decades immediately prior to 1837, so-called affinities and/or analogies among organisms were represented by diverse geometric figures. Series of plant and animal fossils in successive geological strata were represented as trees in a popular textbook from 1840, while in 1858 Bronn presented a system of animals, as evidenced by the fossil record, in a form of a tree. Darwin's 1859 tree and its subsequent elaborations by Haeckel came to be accepted in many but not all areas of biological sciences, while network diagrams were used in others. Beginning in the early 1960s trees were inferred from protein and nucleic acid sequences, but networks were re-introduced in the mid-1990s to represent lateral genetic transfer, increasingly regarded as a fundamental mode of evolution at least for bacteria and archaea. In historical context, then, the Network of Life preceded the Tree of Life and might again supersede it.
This article was reviewed by Eric Bapteste, Patrick Forterre and Dan Graur.
PMCID: PMC2793248  PMID: 19917100
22.  Prokaryotic evolution and the tree of life are two different things 
Biology Direct  2009;4:34.
The concept of a tree of life is prevalent in the evolutionary literature. It stems from attempting to obtain a grand unified natural system that reflects a recurrent process of species and lineage splittings for all forms of life. Traditionally, the discipline of systematics operates in a similar hierarchy of bifurcating (sometimes multifurcating) categories. The assumption of a universal tree of life hinges upon the process of evolution being tree-like throughout all forms of life and all of biological time. In multicellular eukaryotes, the molecular mechanisms and species-level population genetics of variation do indeed mainly cause a tree-like structure over time. In prokaryotes, they do not. Prokaryotic evolution and the tree of life are two different things, and we need to treat them as such, rather than extrapolating from macroscopic life to prokaryotes. In the following we will consider this circumstance from philosophical, scientific, and epistemological perspectives, surmising that phylogeny opted for a single model as a holdover from the Modern Synthesis of evolution.
It was far easier to envision and defend the concept of a universal tree of life before we had data from genomes. But the belief that prokaryotes are related by such a tree has now become stronger than the data to support it. The monistic concept of a single universal tree of life appears, in the face of genome data, increasingly obsolete. This traditional model to describe evolution is no longer the most scientifically productive position to hold, because of the plurality of evolutionary patterns and mechanisms involved. Forcing a single bifurcating scheme onto prokaryotic evolution disregards the non-tree-like nature of natural variation among prokaryotes and accounts for only a minority of observations from genomes.
Prokaryotic evolution and the tree of life are two different things. Hence we will briefly set out alternative models to the tree of life to study their evolution. Ultimately, the plurality of evolutionary patterns and mechanisms involved, such as the discontinuity of the process of evolution across the prokaryote-eukaryote divide, summons forth a pluralistic approach to studying evolution.
This article was reviewed by Ford Doolittle, John Logsdon and Nicolas Galtier.
PMCID: PMC2761302  PMID: 19788731
23.  Molecular chaperones and selection against mutations 
Biology Direct  2008;3:5.
Molecular chaperones help to restore the native states of proteins after their destabilization by external stress. It has been proposed that another function of chaperones is to maintain the activity of proteins destabilized by mutation, weakening the selection against suboptimal protein variants. This would allow for the accumulation of genetic variation which could then be exposed during environmental perturbation and facilitate rapid adaptation.
We focus on studies describing interactions of chaperones with mutated polypeptides. There are some examples that chaperones can alleviate the deleterious effects of mutations through increased assistance of destabilized proteins. These experiments are restricted to bacteria and typically involve overexpression of chaperones. In eukaryotes, it was found that the malfunctioning of chaperones aggravated phenotypic aberrations associated with mutations. This effect could not be linked to chaperone-mediated stabilization of mutated proteins. More likely, the insufficient activity of chaperones inflicted a deregulation of multiple cellular systems, including those responsible for signaling and therefore important in development. As to why the assistance of mutated proteins by chaperones seems difficult to demonstrate, we note that chaperone-assisted folding can often co-exist with chaperone-assisted degradation. There is growing evidence that some chaperones, including those dependent on Hsp90, can detect potentially functional but excessively unstable proteins and direct them towards degradation instead of folding. This implies that at least some mutations are exposed rather than masked by the activity of molecular chaperones.
It is at present impossible to determine whether molecular chaperones are mostly helpers or examiners of mutated proteins because experiments showing either of these roles are very few. Depending on whether assistance or disposal prevails, molecular chaperones could speed up or slow down evolution of protein sequences. Similar uncertainties arise when the concept of chaperones (mostly Hsp90) as general regulators of evolvability is considered. If the two roles of chaperones are antagonistic, then any (even small) modification of the chaperone activities to save mutated polypeptides could lead to increased misfolding and aggregation of other proteins. This would be a permanent burden, different from the stochastic cost arising from indiscriminate buffering of random mutations of which many are maladaptive.
This article was reviewed by A. S. Kondrashov, J. Höhfeld (nominated by A. Eyre-Walker) and D. A. Drummond (nominated by C. Adami). For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewers' comments section.
PMCID: PMC2267774  PMID: 18298866
24.  Predicting the conformations of peptides and proteins in early evolution. A review article submitted to Biology Direct 
Biology Direct  2008;3:3.
Considering that short, mainly heterochiral, polypeptides with a high glycine content are expected to have played a prominent role in evolution at the earliest stage of life before nucleic acids were available, we review recent knowledge about polypeptide three-dimensional structure to predict the types of conformations they would have adopted. The possible existence of such structures at this time leads to a consideration of their functional significance, and the consequences for the course of evolution.
This article was reviewed by Bill Martin, Eugene Koonin and Nick Grishin.
PMCID: PMC2241844  PMID: 18226248
25.  Hox, Wnt, and the evolution of the primary body axis: insights from the early-divergent phyla 
Biology Direct  2007;2:37.
The subkingdom Bilateria encompasses the overwhelming majority of animals, including all but four early-branching phyla: Porifera, Ctenophora, Placozoa, and Cnidaria. On average, these early-branching phyla have fewer cell types, tissues, and organs, and are considered to be significantly less specialized along their primary body axis. As such, they present an attractive outgroup from which to investigate how evolutionary changes in the genetic toolkit may have contributed to the emergence of the complex animal body plans of the Bilateria. This review offers an up-to-date glimpse of genome-scale comparisons between bilaterians and these early-diverging taxa. Specifically, we examine these data in the context of how they may explain the evolutionary development of primary body axes and axial symmetry across the Metazoa. Next, we re-evaluate the validity and evolutionary genomic relevance of the zootype hypothesis, which defines an animal by a specific spatial pattern of gene expression. Finally, we extend the hypothesis that Wnt genes may be the earliest primary body axis patterning mechanism by suggesting that Hox genes were co-opted into this patterning network prior to the last common ancestor of cnidarians and bilaterians.
Reviewed by Pierre Pontarotti, Gáspár Jékely, and L Aravind. For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewers' comments section.
PMCID: PMC2222619  PMID: 18078518

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