Many Gram-negative pathogenic bacteria use a type III secretion system to translocate a suite of effector proteins into the cytosol of host cells. Within the cell, type III effectors subvert host cellular processes to suppress immune responses and promote pathogen growth. Numerous type III effectors of plant and animal bacterial pathogens have been identified to date, yet only a few of them are well characterized. Understanding the functions of these effectors has been undermined by a combination of functional redundancy in the effector repertoire of a given bacterial strain, the subtle effects that they may exert to increase virulence, roles that are possibly specific to certain infection stages, and difficulties in genetically manipulating certain pathogens. Expression of type III effectors in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae may allow circumventing these limitations and aid to the functional characterization of effector proteins. Because type III effectors often target cellular processes that are conserved between yeast and other eukaryotes, their expression in yeast may result in growth inhibition phenotypes that can be exploited to elucidate effector functions and targets. Additional advantages to using yeast for functional studies of bacterial effectors include their genetic tractability, information on predicted functions of the vast majority of their ORFs, and availability of numerous tools and resources for both genome-wide and small-scale experiments. Here we discuss critical factors for designing a yeast system for the expression of bacterial type III effector proteins. These include an appropriate promoter for driving expression of the effector gene(s) of interest, the copy number of the effector gene, the epitope tag used to verify protein expression, and the yeast strain. We present procedures to induce expression of effectors in yeast and to verify their expression by immunoblotting. In addition, we describe a spotting assay on agar plates for the identification of effector-induced growth inhibition phenotypes. The use of this protocol may be extended to the study of pathogenicity factors delivered into the host cell by any pathogen and translocation mechanism.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
RNA In situ Hybridization in Whole Mount Embryos and Cell Histology Adapted for Marine Elasmobranchs
Institutions: Union College.
Marine elasmobranchs are valued animal models for biomedical and genomic studies as they are the most primitive vertebrates to have adaptive immunity and have unique mechanisms for osmoregulation 1-3
. As the most primitive living jawed-vertebrates with paired appendages, elasmobranchs are an evolutionarily important model, especially for studies in evolution and development. Marine elasmobranchs have also been used to study aquatic toxicology and stress physiology in relationship to climate change 4
. Thus, development and adaptation of methodologies is needed to facilitate and expand the use of these primitive vertebrates to multiple biological disciplines. Here I present the successful adaptation of RNA whole mount in situ
hybridization and histological techniques to study gene expression and cell histology in elasmobranchs.
Monitoring gene expression is a hallmark tool of developmental biologists, and is widely used to investigate developmental processes 5
. RNA whole mount in situ
hybridization allows for the visualization and localization of specific gene transcripts in tissues of the developing embryo. The expression pattern of a gene's message can provide insight into what developmental processes and cell fate decisions a gene may control. By comparing the expression pattern of a gene at different developmental stages, insight can be gained into how the role of a gene changes during development.
While whole mount in situ
's provides a means to localize gene expression to tissue, histological techniques allow for the identification of differentiated cell types and tissues. Histological stains have varied functions. General stains are used to highlight cell morphology, for example hematoxylin and eosin for general staining of nuclei and cytoplasm, respectively. Other stains can highlight specific cell types. For example, the alcian blue stain reported in this paper is a widely used cationic stain to identify mucosaccharides. Staining of the digestive tract with alcian blue can identify the distribution of goblet cells that produce mucosaccharides. Variations in mucosaccharide constituents on short peptides distinguish goblet cells by function within the digestive tract 6
. By using RNA whole mount in situ
's and histochemical methods concurrently, cell fate decisions can be linked to gene-specific expression.
Although RNA in situ
's and histochemistry are widely used by researchers, their adaptation and use in marine elasmobranchs have met limited and varied success. Here I present protocols developed for elasmobranchs and used on a regular basis in my laboratory. Although further modification of the RNA in situ
's hybridization method may be needed to adapt to different species, the protocols described here provide a strong starting point for researchers wanting to adapt the use of marine elasmobranchs to their scientific inquiries.
Genetics, Issue 74, Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Marine Biology, Disciplines and Occupations, whole mount in situ hybridization, RNA in situs, RNA, acid mucins, alcian blue, nuclear fast red stain, elasmobranch, marine elasmobranchs, L. erinacea, Shh, Hoxa13, gene expression, hybridization, histology, skate, embryos, animal model
Isolation of Sensory Neurons of Aplysia californica for Patch Clamp Recordings of Glutamatergic Currents
Institutions: University of Miami.
The marine gastropod mollusk Aplysia californica
has a venerable history as a model of nervous system function, with particular significance in studies of learning and memory. The typical preparations for such studies are ones in which the sensory and motoneurons are left intact in a minimally dissected animal, or a technically elaborate neuronal co-culture of individual sensory and motoneurons. Less common is the isolated neuronal preparation in which small clusters of nominally homogeneous neurons are dissociated into single cells in short term culture. Such isolated cells are useful for the biophysical characterization of ion currents using patch clamp techniques, and targeted modulation of these conductances. A protocol for preparing such cultures is described. The protocol takes advantage of the easily identifiable glutamatergic sensory neurons of the pleural and buccal ganglia, and describes their dissociation and minimal maintenance in culture for several days without serum.
Neuroscience, Issue 77, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Environmental Sciences, Marine Biology, Receptors, Neurophysiology, Neurotransmitter, Neurotransmitter Agents, Patch Clamp Recordings, Primary Cell Culture, Electrophysiology, L-Glutamate, NMDA, D-Aspartate, dissection, ganglia, buccal ganglion, neurons, invertebrate, Aplysia californica, california sea slug, mollusk, animal model
Genetic Manipulation in Δku80 Strains for Functional Genomic Analysis of Toxoplasma gondii
Institutions: The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.
Targeted genetic manipulation using homologous recombination is the method of choice for functional genomic analysis to obtain a detailed view of gene function and phenotype(s). The development of mutant strains with targeted gene deletions, targeted mutations, complemented gene function, and/or tagged genes provides powerful strategies to address gene function, particularly if these genetic manipulations can be efficiently targeted to the gene locus of interest using integration mediated by double cross over homologous recombination.
Due to very high rates of nonhomologous recombination, functional genomic analysis of Toxoplasma gondii
has been previously limited by the absence of efficient methods for targeting gene deletions and gene replacements to specific genetic loci. Recently, we abolished the major pathway of nonhomologous recombination in type I and type II strains of T. gondii
by deleting the gene encoding the KU80 protein1,2
. The Δku80
strains behave normally during tachyzoite (acute) and bradyzoite (chronic) stages in vitro
and in vivo
and exhibit essentially a 100% frequency of homologous recombination. The Δku80
strains make functional genomic studies feasible on the single gene as well as on the genome scale1-4
Here, we report methods for using type I and type II Δku80Δhxgprt
strains to advance gene targeting approaches in T. gondii
. We outline efficient methods for generating gene deletions, gene replacements, and tagged genes by targeted insertion or deletion of the hypoxanthine-xanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase (HXGPRT
) selectable marker. The described gene targeting protocol can be used in a variety of ways in Δku80
strains to advance functional analysis of the parasite genome and to develop single strains that carry multiple targeted genetic manipulations. The application of this genetic method and subsequent phenotypic assays will reveal fundamental and unique aspects of the biology of T. gondii
and related significant human pathogens that cause malaria (Plasmodium
sp.) and cryptosporidiosis (Cryptosporidium
Infectious Diseases, Issue 77, Genetics, Microbiology, Infection, Medicine, Immunology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Genomics, Parasitology, Pathology, Apicomplexa, Coccidia, Toxoplasma, Genetic Techniques, Gene Targeting, Eukaryota, Toxoplasma gondii, genetic manipulation, gene targeting, gene deletion, gene replacement, gene tagging, homologous recombination, DNA, sequencing
Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e.
biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc
.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not
expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis
; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
Aplysia Ganglia Preparation for Electrophysiological and Molecular Analyses of Single Neurons
Institutions: The Scripps Research Institute, Florida.
A major challenge in neurobiology is to understand the molecular underpinnings of neural circuitry that govern a specific behavior. Once the specific molecular mechanisms are identified, new therapeutic strategies can be developed to treat abnormalities in specific behaviors caused by degenerative diseases or aging of the nervous system. The marine snail Aplysia californica
is well suited for the investigations of cellular and molecular basis of behavior because neural circuitry underlying a specific behavior could be easily determined and the individual components of the circuitry could be easily manipulated. These advantages of Aplysia
have led to several fundamental discoveries of neurobiology of learning and memory. Here we describe a preparation of the Aplysia
nervous system for the electrophysiological and molecular analyses of individual neurons. Briefly, ganglion dissected from the nervous system is exposed to protease to remove the ganglion sheath such that neurons are exposed but retain neuronal activity as in the intact animal. This preparation is used to carry out electrophysiological measurements of single or multiple neurons. Importantly, following the recording using a simple methodology, the neurons could be isolated directly from the ganglia for gene expression analysis. These protocols were used to carry out simultaneous electrophysiological recordings from L7 and R15 neurons, study their response to acetylcholine and quantitating expression of CREB1 gene in isolated single L7, L11, R15, and R2 neurons of Aplysia
Neurobiology, Issue 83, intracellular recording, identified neuron, neural circuitry, gene expression, action potential, CREB, Aplysia californica, genomics
Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis
. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment.
Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (www.venomics.eu), our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli
cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae
has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
Generation of Enterobacter sp. YSU Auxotrophs Using Transposon Mutagenesis
Institutions: Youngstown State University.
Prototrophic bacteria grow on M-9 minimal salts medium supplemented with glucose (M-9 medium), which is used as a carbon and energy source. Auxotrophs can be generated using a transposome. The commercially available, Tn5
-derived transposome used in this protocol consists of a linear segment of DNA containing an R6Kγ
replication origin, a gene for kanamycin resistance and two mosaic sequence ends, which serve as transposase binding sites. The transposome, provided as a DNA/transposase protein complex, is introduced by electroporation into the prototrophic strain, Enterobacter
sp. YSU, and randomly incorporates itself into this host’s genome. Transformants are replica plated onto Luria-Bertani agar plates containing kanamycin, (LB-kan) and onto M-9 medium agar plates containing kanamycin (M-9-kan). The transformants that grow on LB-kan plates but not on M-9-kan plates are considered to be auxotrophs. Purified genomic DNA from an auxotroph is partially digested, ligated and transformed into a pir+ Escherichia coli
) strain. The R6Kγ
replication origin allows the plasmid to replicate in pir+ E. coli
strains, and the kanamycin resistance marker allows for plasmid selection. Each transformant possesses a new plasmid containing the transposon flanked by the interrupted chromosomal region. Sanger sequencing and the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) suggest a putative identity of the interrupted gene. There are three advantages to using this transposome mutagenesis strategy. First, it does not rely on the expression of a transposase gene by the host. Second, the transposome is introduced into the target host by electroporation, rather than by conjugation or by transduction and therefore is more efficient. Third, the R6Kγ
replication origin makes it easy to identify the mutated gene which is partially recovered in a recombinant plasmid. This technique can be used to investigate the genes involved in other characteristics of Enterobacter
sp. YSU or of a wider variety of bacterial strains.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Auxotroph, transposome, transposon, mutagenesis, replica plating, glucose minimal medium, complex medium, Enterobacter
Training Rats to Voluntarily Dive Underwater: Investigations of the Mammalian Diving Response
Institutions: Midwestern University.
Underwater submergence produces autonomic changes that are observed in virtually all diving animals. This reflexly-induced response consists of apnea, a parasympathetically-induced bradycardia and a sympathetically-induced alteration of vascular resistance that maintains blood flow to the heart, brain and exercising muscles. While many of the metabolic and cardiorespiratory aspects of the diving response have been studied in marine animals, investigations of the central integrative aspects of this brainstem reflex have been relatively lacking. Because the physiology and neuroanatomy of the rat are well characterized, the rat can be used to help ascertain the central pathways of the mammalian diving response. Detailed instructions are provided on how to train rats to swim and voluntarily dive underwater through a 5 m long Plexiglas maze. Considerations regarding tank design and procedure room requirements are also given. The behavioral training is conducted in such a way as to reduce the stressfulness that could otherwise be associated with forced underwater submergence, thus minimizing activation of central stress pathways. The training procedures are not technically difficult, but they can be time-consuming. Since behavioral training of animals can only provide a model to be used with other experimental techniques, examples of how voluntarily diving rats have been used in conjunction with other physiological and neuroanatomical research techniques, and how the basic training procedures may need to be modified to accommodate these techniques, are also provided. These experiments show that voluntarily diving rats exhibit the same cardiorespiratory changes typically seen in other diving animals. The ease with which rats can be trained to voluntarily dive underwater, and the already available data from rats collected in other neurophysiological studies, makes voluntarily diving rats a good behavioral model to be used in studies investigating the central aspects of the mammalian diving response.
Behavior, Issue 93, Rat, Rattus norvegicus, voluntary diving, diving response, diving reflex, autonomic reflex, central integration
Genomic Transformation of the Picoeukaryote Ostreococcus tauri
Institutions: University of Edinburgh , Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris 06, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris 06.
Common problems hindering rapid progress in Plant Sciences include cellular, tissue and whole organism complexity, and notably the high level of genomic redundancy affecting simple genetics in higher plants. The novel model organism Ostreococcus tauri
is the smallest free-living eukaryote known to date, and possesses a greatly reduced genome size and cellular complexity1,2
, manifested by the presence of just one of most organelles (mitochondrion, chloroplast, golgi stack) per cell, and a genome containing only ~8000 genes. Furthermore, the combination of unicellularity and easy culture provides a platform amenable to chemical biology approaches. Recently, Ostreococcus
has been successfully employed to study basic mechanisms underlying circadian timekeeping3-6
. Results from this model organism have impacted not only plant science, but also mammalian biology7
. This example highlights how rapid experimentation in a simple eukaryote from the green lineage can accelerate research in more complex organisms by generating testable hypotheses using methods technically feasible only in this background of reduced complexity. Knowledge of a genome and the possibility to modify genes are essential tools in any model species. Genomic1
, and Proteomic9
information for this species is freely available, whereas the previously reported methods6,10
to genetically transform Ostreococcus
are known to few laboratories worldwide.
In this article, the experimental methods to genetically transform this novel model organism with an overexpression construct by means of electroporation are outlined in detail, as well as the method of inclusion of transformed cells in low percentage agarose to allow selection of transformed lines originating from a single transformed cell. Following the successful application of Ostreococcus
to circadian research, growing interest in Ostreococcus
can be expected from diverse research areas within and outside plant sciences, including biotechnological areas. Researchers from a broad range of biological and medical sciences that work on conserved biochemical pathways may consider pursuing research in Ostreococcus
, free from the genomic and organismal complexity of larger model species.
Microbiology, Issue 65, Plant Biology, Microbial Oceanography, Marine Biology, Genetics, Transformation, Electroporation, Marine algae, plankton, Cell biology, Ostreococcus tauri, Plant Science, Reduced complexity, Circadian
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g.
protein-protein) and functional (e.g.
gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1
. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2
. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7
, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8
, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10
Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli
Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9
, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format.
Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g.
the 'Keio' collection11
) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e.
alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13
) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14
. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9
. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2
. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e.
slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2
as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
Metabolic Pathway Confirmation and Discovery Through 13C-labeling of Proteinogenic Amino Acids
Institutions: Washington University, Washington University, Washington University.
Microbes have complex metabolic pathways that can be investigated using biochemistry and functional genomics methods. One important technique to examine cell central metabolism and discover new enzymes is 13
C-assisted metabolism analysis 1. This technique is based on isotopic labeling, whereby microbes are fed with a 13
C labeled substrates. By tracing the atom transition paths between metabolites in the biochemical network, we can determine functional pathways and discover new enzymes.
As a complementary method to transcriptomics and proteomics, approaches for isotopomer-assisted analysis of metabolic pathways contain three major steps 2
, we grow cells with 13
C labeled substrates. In this step, the composition of the medium and the selection of labeled substrates are two key factors. To avoid measurement noises from non-labeled carbon in nutrient supplements, a minimal medium with a sole carbon source is required. Further, the choice of a labeled substrate is based on how effectively it will elucidate the pathway being analyzed. Because novel enzymes often involve different reaction stereochemistry or intermediate products, in general, singly labeled carbon substrates are more informative for detection of novel pathways than uniformly labeled ones for detection of novel pathways3, 4
, we analyze amino acid labeling patterns using GC-MS. Amino acids are abundant in protein and thus can be obtained from biomass hydrolysis. Amino acids can be derivatized by N-(tert-butyldimethylsilyl)-N-methyltrifluoroacetamide (TBDMS) before GC separation. TBDMS derivatized amino acids can be fragmented by MS and result in different arrays of fragments. Based on the mass to charge (m/z) ratio of fragmented and unfragmented amino acids, we can deduce the possible labeled patterns of the central metabolites that are precursors of the amino acids. Third
, we trace 13C carbon transitions in the proposed pathways and, based on the isotopomer data, confirm whether these pathways are active 2
. Measurement of amino acids provides isotopic labeling information about eight crucial precursor metabolites in the central metabolism. These metabolic key nodes can reflect the functions of associated central pathways.
C-assisted metabolism analysis via proteinogenic amino acids can be widely used for functional characterization of poorly-characterized microbial metabolism1
. In this protocol, we will use Cyanothece
51142 as the model strain to demonstrate the use of labeled carbon substrates for discovering new enzymatic functions.
Molecular Biology, Issue 59, GC-MS, novel pathway, metabolism, labeling, phototrophic microorganism
Generation of RNA/DNA Hybrids in Genomic DNA by Transformation using RNA-containing Oligonucleotides
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology.
Synthetic short nucleic acid polymers, oligonucleotides (oligos), are the most functional and widespread tools of molecular biology. Oligos can be produced to contain any desired DNA or RNA sequence and can be prepared to include a wide variety of base and sugar modifications. Moreover, oligos can be designed to mimic specific nucleic acid alterations and thus, can serve as important tools to investigate effects of DNA damage and mechanisms of repair. We found that Thermo Scientific Dharmacon RNA-containing oligos with a length between 50 and 80 nucleotides can be particularly suitable to study, in vivo
, functions and consequences of chromosomal RNA/DNA hybrids and of ribonucleotides embedded into DNA. RNA/DNA hybrids can readily form during DNA replication, repair and transcription, however, very little is known about the stability of RNA/DNA hybrids in cells and to which extent these hybrids can affect the genetic integrity of cells. RNA-containing oligos, therefore, represent a perfect vector to introduce ribonucleotides into chromosomal DNA and generate RNA/DNA hybrids of chosen length and base composition. Here we present the protocol for the incorporation of ribonucleotides into the genome of the eukaryotic model system yeast /Saccharomyces cerevisiae
/. Yet, our lab has utilized Thermo Scientific Dharmacon RNA-containing oligos to generate RNA/DNA hybrids at the chromosomal level in different cell systems, from bacteria to human cells.
Cellular Biology, Issue 45, RNA-containing oligonucleotides, ribonucleotides, RNA/DNA hybrids, yeast, transformation, gene targeting, genome instability, DNA repair
Environmentally Induced Heritable Changes in Flax
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Some flax varieties respond to nutrient stress by modifying their genome and these modifications can be inherited through many generations. Also associated with these genomic changes are heritable phenotypic variations 1,2
. The flax variety Stormont Cirrus (Pl) when grown under three different nutrient conditions can either remain inducible (under the control conditions), or become stably modified to either the large or small genotroph by growth under high or low nutrient conditions respectively. The lines resulting from the initial growth under each of these conditions appear to grow better when grown under the same conditions in subsequent generations, notably the Pl line grows best under the control treatment indicating that the plants growing under both the high and low nutrients are under stress. One of the genomic changes that are associated with the induction of heritable changes is the appearance of an insertion element (LIS-1) 3, 4
while the plants are growing under the nutrient stress. With respect to this insertion event, the flax variety Stormont Cirrus (Pl) when grown under three different nutrient conditions can either remain unchanged (under the control conditions), have the insertion appear in all the plants (under low nutrients) and have this transmitted to the next generation, or have the insertion (or parts of it) appear but not be transmitted through generations (under high nutrients) 4
. The frequency of the appearance of this insertion indicates that it is under positive selection, which is also consistent with the growth response in subsequent generations. Leaves or meristems harvested at various stages of growth are used for DNA and RNA isolation. The RNA is used to identify variation in expression associated with the various growth environments and/or t he presence/absence of LIS-1. The isolated DNA is used to identify those plants in which the insertion has occurred.
Plant Biology, Issue 47, Flax, genome variation, environmental stress, small RNAs, altered gene expression
Development of a Negative Selectable Marker for Entamoeba histolytica
Institutions: University of Virginia Health System.
is the causative agent of amebiasis and infects up to 10% of the world's population. The molecular techniques that have enabled the up- and down-regulation of gene expression rely on the transfection of stably maintained plasmids. While these have increased our understanding of Entamoeba virulence factors, the capacity to integrate exogenous DNA into genome, which would allow reverse genetics experiments, would be a significant advantage in the study of this parasite. The challenges presented by this organism include inability to select for homologous recombination events and difficulty to cure episomal plasmid DNA from transfected trophozoites. The later results in a high background of exogenous DNA, a major problem in the identification of trophozoites in which a bona fide genomic integration event has occurred. We report the development of a negative selection system based upon transgenic expression of a yeast cytosine deaminase and uracil phosphoribosyl transferase chimera (FCU1) and selection with prodrug 5-fluorocytosine (5-FC). The FCU1 enzyme converts non-toxic 5-FC into toxic 5-fluorouracil and 5-fluorouridine-5'-monophosphate. E. histolytica
lines expressing FCU1 were found to be 30 fold more sensitive to the prodrug compared to the control strain.
Infectious Disease, Issue 46, Entamoeba, negative selectable marker, 5-fluorocytosine, gene knockout, Cytosine deaminase, UPRT CMFDA.
A High Throughput Screen for Biomining Cellulase Activity from Metagenomic Libraries
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
Cellulose, the most abundant source of organic carbon on the planet, has wide-ranging industrial applications with increasing emphasis on biofuel production 1
. Chemical methods to modify or degrade cellulose typically require strong acids and high temperatures. As such, enzymatic methods have become prominent in the bioconversion process. While the identification of active cellulases from bacterial and fungal isolates has been somewhat effective, the vast majority of microbes in nature resist laboratory cultivation. Environmental genomic, also known as metagenomic, screening approaches have great promise in bridging the cultivation gap in the search for novel bioconversion enzymes. Metagenomic screening approaches have successfully recovered novel cellulases from environments as varied as soils 2
, buffalo rumen 3
and the termite hind-gut 4
using carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) agar plates stained with congo red dye (based on the method of Teather and Wood 5
). However, the CMC method is limited in throughput, is not quantitative and manifests a low signal to noise ratio 6
. Other methods have been reported 7,8
but each use an agar plate-based assay, which is undesirable for high-throughput screening of large insert genomic libraries. Here we present a solution-based screen for cellulase activity using a chromogenic dinitrophenol (DNP)-cellobioside substrate 9
. Our library was cloned into the pCC1 copy control fosmid to increase assay sensitivity through copy number induction 10
. The method uses one-pot chemistry in 384-well microplates with the final readout provided as an absorbance measurement. This readout is quantitative, sensitive and automated with a throughput of up to 100X 384-well plates per day using a liquid handler and plate reader with attached stacking system.
Microbiology, Issue 48, Cellulase, cellulose, DNP-cellobioside, metagenomics, metagenome, environmental genomics, functional metagenomics
Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3
. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
Quantitation and Analysis of the Formation of HO-Endonuclease Stimulated Chromosomal Translocations by Single-Strand Annealing in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences, City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center and Beckman Research Institute, University of Southern California, Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Genetic variation is frequently mediated by genomic rearrangements that arise through interaction between dispersed repetitive elements present in every eukaryotic genome. This process is an important mechanism for generating diversity between and within organisms1-3
. The human genome consists of approximately 40% repetitive sequence of retrotransposon origin, including a variety of LINEs and SINEs4
. Exchange events between these repetitive elements can lead to genome rearrangements, including translocations, that can disrupt gene dosage and expression that can result in autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases5
, as well as cancer in humans6-9
Exchange between repetitive elements occurs in a variety of ways. Exchange between sequences that share perfect (or near-perfect) homology occurs by a process called homologous recombination (HR). By contrast, non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) uses little-or-no sequence homology for exchange10,11
. The primary purpose of HR, in mitotic cells, is to repair double-strand breaks (DSBs) generated endogenously by aberrant DNA replication and oxidative lesions, or by exposure to ionizing radiation (IR), and other exogenous DNA damaging agents.
In the assay described here, DSBs are simultaneously created bordering recombination substrates at two different chromosomal loci in diploid cells by a galactose-inducible HO-endonuclease (Figure 1
). The repair of the broken chromosomes generates chromosomal translocations by single strand annealing (SSA), a process where homologous sequences adjacent to the chromosome ends are covalently joined subsequent to annealing. One of the substrates, his3-Δ3'
, contains a 3' truncated HIS3
allele and is located on one copy of chromosome XV at the native HIS3
locus. The second substrate, his3-Δ5'
, is located at the LEU2
locus on one copy of chromosome III, and contains a 5' truncated HIS3
allele. Both substrates are flanked by a HO endonuclease recognition site that can be targeted for incision by HO-endonuclease. HO endonuclease recognition sites native to the MAT
locus, on both copies of chromosome III, have been deleted in all strains. This prevents interaction between the recombination substrates and other broken chromosome ends from interfering in the assay. The KAN-MX
-marked galactose-inducible HO endonuclease expression cassette is inserted at the TRP1
locus on chromosome IV. The substrates share 311 bp or 60 bp of the HIS3
coding sequence that can be used by the HR machinery for repair by SSA. Cells that use these substrates to repair broken chromosomes by HR form an intact HIS3
allele and a tXV::III chromosomal translocation that can be selected for by the ability to grow on medium lacking histidine (Figure 2A
). Translocation frequency by HR is calculated by dividing the number of histidine prototrophic colonies that arise on selective medium by the total number of viable cells that arise after plating appropriate dilutions onto non-selective medium (Figure 2B
). A variety of DNA repair mutants have been used to study the genetic control of translocation formation by SSA using this system12-14
Genetics, Issue 55, translocation formation, HO-endonuclease, Genomic Southern blot, Chromosome blot, Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, Homologous recombination, DNA double-strand breaks, Single-strand annealing
High-throughput Crystallization of Membrane Proteins Using the Lipidic Bicelle Method
Institutions: University of California Los Angeles , David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA.
Membrane proteins (MPs) play a critical role in many physiological processes such as pumping specific molecules across the otherwise impermeable membrane bilayer that surrounds all cells and organelles. Alterations in the function of MPs result in many human diseases and disorders; thus, an intricate understanding of their structures remains a critical objective for biological research. However, structure determination of MPs remains a significant challenge often stemming from their hydrophobicity.
MPs have substantial hydrophobic regions embedded within the bilayer. Detergents are frequently used to solubilize these proteins from the bilayer generating a protein-detergent micelle that can then be manipulated in a similar manner as soluble proteins. Traditionally, crystallization trials proceed using a protein-detergent mixture, but they often resist crystallization or produce crystals of poor quality. These problems arise due to the detergent′s inability to adequately mimic the bilayer resulting in poor stability and heterogeneity. In addition, the detergent shields the hydrophobic surface of the MP reducing the surface area available for crystal contacts. To circumvent these drawbacks MPs can be crystallized in lipidic media, which more closely simulates their endogenous environment, and has recently become a de novo technique for MP crystallization.
Lipidic cubic phase (LCP) is a three-dimensional lipid bilayer penetrated by an interconnected system of aqueous channels1
. Although monoolein is the lipid of choice, related lipids such as monopalmitolein and monovaccenin have also been used to make LCP2
. MPs are incorporated into the LCP where they diffuse in three dimensions and feed crystal nuclei. A great advantage of the LCP is that the protein remains in a more native environment, but the method has a number of technical disadvantages including high viscosity (requiring specialized apparatuses) and difficulties in crystal visualization and manipulation3,4
. Because of these technical difficulties, we utilized another lipidic medium for crystallization-bicelles5,6
). Bicelles are lipid/amphiphile mixtures formed by blending a phosphatidylcholine lipid (DMPC) with an amphiphile (CHAPSO) or a short-chain lipid (DHPC). Within each bicelle disc, the lipid molecules generate a bilayer while the amphiphile molecules line the apolar edges providing beneficial properties of both bilayers and detergents. Importantly, below their transition temperature, protein-bicelle mixtures have a reduced viscosity and are manipulated in a similar manner as detergent-solubilized MPs, making bicelles compatible with crystallization robots.
Bicelles have been successfully used to crystallize several membrane proteins5,7-11 (Table 1)
. This growing collection of proteins demonstrates the versatility of bicelles for crystallizing both alpha helical and beta sheet MPs from prokaryotic and eukaryotic sources. Because of these successes and the simplicity of high-throughput implementation, bicelles should be part of every membrane protein crystallographer′s arsenal. In this video, we describe the bicelle methodology and provide a step-by-step protocol for setting up high-throughput crystallization trials of purified MPs using standard robotics.
Molecular Biology, Issue 59, membrane proteins crystallization, bicelle, lipidic crystallization
Growth Assays to Assess Polyglutamine Toxicity in Yeast
Institutions: Boston Biomedical Research Institute.
Protein misfolding is associated with many human diseases, particularly neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson's disease, and Huntington's disease 1
. Huntington's disease (HD) is caused by the abnormal expansion of a polyglutamine (polyQ) region within the protein huntingtin. The polyQ-expanded huntingtin protein attains an aberrant conformation (i.e. it misfolds) and causes cellular toxicity 2
. At least eight further neurodegenerative diseases are caused by polyQ-expansions, including the Spinocerebellar Ataxias and Kennedy’s disease 3
The model organism yeast has facilitated significant insights into the cellular and molecular basis of polyQ-toxicity, including the impact of intra- and inter-molecular factors of polyQ-toxicity, and the identification of cellular pathways that are impaired in cells expressing polyQ-expansion proteins 3-8
. Importantly, many aspects of polyQ-toxicity that were found in yeast were reproduced in other experimental systems and to some extent in samples from HD patients, thus demonstrating the significance of the yeast model for the discovery of basic mechanisms underpinning polyQ-toxicity.
A direct and relatively simple way to determine polyQ-toxicity in yeast is to measure growth defects of yeast cells expressing polyQ-expansion proteins. This manuscript describes three complementary experimental approaches to determine polyQ-toxicity in yeast by measuring the growth of yeast cells expressing polyQ-expansion proteins. The first two experimental approaches monitor yeast growth on plates, the third approach monitors the growth of liquid yeast cultures using the BioscreenC instrument.
Furthermore, this manuscript describes experimental difficulties that can occur when handling yeast polyQ models and outlines strategies that will help to avoid or minimize these difficulties. The protocols described here can be used to identify and to characterize genetic pathways and small molecules that modulate polyQ-toxicity. Moreover, the described assays may serve as templates for accurate analyses of the toxicity caused by other disease-associated misfolded proteins in yeast models.
Molecular Biology, Issue 61, Protein misfolding, yeast, polyglutamine diseases, growth assays
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
Studying Age-dependent Genomic Instability using the S. cerevisiae Chronological Lifespan Model
Institutions: University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
Studies using the Saccharomyces cerevisiae
aging model have uncovered life span regulatory pathways that are partially conserved in higher eukaryotes1-2
. The simplicity and power of the yeast aging model can also be explored to study DNA damage and genome maintenance as well as their contributions to diseases during aging. Here, we describe a system to study age-dependent DNA mutations, including base substitutions, frame-shift mutations, gross chromosomal rearrangements, and homologous/homeologous recombination, as well as nuclear DNA repair activity by combining the yeast chronological life span with simple DNA damage and mutation assays. The methods described here should facilitate the identification of genes/pathways that regulate genomic instability and the mechanisms that underlie age-dependent DNA mutations and cancer in mammals.
Genetics, Issue 55, saccharomyces cerevisiae, life span, aging, mutation frequency, genomic instability
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing