Seagrasses colonized the sea on at least three independent occasions to form the basis of one of the most productive and widespread coastal ecosystems on the planet. Here we report the genome of Zostera marina (L.), the first, to our knowledge, marine angiosperm to be fully sequenced. This reveals unique insights into the genomic losses and gains involved in achieving the structural and physiological adaptations required for its marine lifestyle, arguably the most severe habitat shift ever accomplished by flowering plants. Key angiosperm innovations that were lost include the entire repertoire of stomatal genes, genes involved in the synthesis of terpenoids and ethylene signalling, and genes for ultraviolet protection and phytochromes for far-red sensing. Seagrasses have also regained functions enabling them to adjust to full salinity. Their cell walls contain all of the polysaccharides typical of land plants, but also contain polyanionic, low-methylated pectins and sulfated galactans, a feature shared with the cell walls of all macroalgae and that is important for ion homoeostasis, nutrient uptake and O2/CO2 exchange through leaf epidermal cells. The Z. marina genome resource will markedly advance a wide range of functional ecological studies from adaptation of marine ecosystems under climate warming, to unravelling the mechanisms of osmoregulation under high salinities that may further inform our understanding of the evolution of salt tolerance in crop plants.
Is Computational Biology increasingly—and steadily—progressing toward addressing the mammoth challenge of actually computing biology? That is, have we reached the stage where we do not support biological research but drive it? This question is vitally important for all—young and established computational biologists. Even though forecasting future research can be risky, we still venture to predict that the future will see considerably more research projects drifting toward this ambitious aspiration. Computational Biology is powerful for abstracting signatures of disease, for predicting it, and for proposing medications. It is effective in figuring out disease mechanisms and forceful in bridging experimental disciplines to obtain testable predictions. However, perhaps its biggest challenges lie in putting together the available broad and disparate information, devising tools to efficiently and effectively carry out these tasks while sifting through noise and recognizing cell specificity, and most importantly coming up with sound, coherent, and testable schemes.
Microbe-associated molecular patterns (MAMPs) are molecules, or domains within molecules, that are conserved across microbial taxa and can be recognized by a plant or animal immune system. Although MAMP receptors have evolved to recognize conserved epitopes, the MAMPs in some microbial species or strains have diverged sufficiently to render them unrecognizable by some host immune systems. In this study, we carried out in vitro evolution of the Arabidopsis thaliana flagellin receptor FLAGELLIN-SENSING 2 (FLS2) to isolate derivatives that recognize one or more flagellin peptides from bacteria for which the wild-type Arabidopsis FLS2 confers little or no response. A targeted approach generated amino acid variation at FLS2 residues in a region previously implicated in flagellin recognition. The primary screen tested for elevated response to the canonical flagellin peptide from Pseudomonas aeruginosa, flg22. From this pool, we then identified five alleles of FLS2 that confer modest (quantitatively partial) recognition of an Erwinia amylovora flagellin peptide. Use of this Erwinia-based flagellin peptide to stimulate Arabidopsis plants expressing the resulting FLS2 alleles did not lead to a detectable reduction of virulent P. syringae pv. tomato growth. However, combination of two identified mutations into a single allele further increased FLS2-mediated responses to the E. amylovora flagellin peptide. These studies demonstrate the potential to raise the sensitivity of MAMP receptors toward particular targets.
Human-associated microbial communities have a crucial role in determining our health and well-being, and this has led to the continuing development of microbiome-based therapies such as faecal microbiota transplantation. These microbial communities are very complex, dynamic and highly personalized ecosystems, exhibiting a high degree of inter-individual variability in both species assemblages and abundance profiles. It is not known whether the underlying ecological dynamics of these communities, which can be parameterized by growth rates, and intra- and inter-species interactions in population dynamics models, are largely host-independent (that is, universal) or host-specific. If the inter-individual variability reflects host-specific dynamics due to differences in host lifestyle, physiology or genetics, then generic microbiome manipulations may have unintended consequences, rendering them ineffective or even detrimental. Alternatively, microbial ecosystems of different subjects may exhibit universal dynamics, with the inter-individual variability mainly originating from differences in the sets of colonizing species. Here we develop a new computational method to characterize human microbial dynamics. By applying this method to cross-sectional data from two large-scale metagenomic studies—the Human Microbiome Project and the Student Microbiome Project—we show that gut and mouth microbiomes display pronounced universal dynamics, whereas communities associated with certain skin sites are probably shaped by differences in the host environment. Notably, the universality of gut microbial dynamics is not observed in subjects with recurrent Clostridium difficile infection but is observed in the same set of subjects after faecal microbiota transplantation. These results fundamentally improve our understanding of the processes that shape human microbial ecosystems, and pave the way to designing general microbiome-based therapies.
How can matter transition from the nonliving to the living state? The answer is essential for understanding the origin of life on Earth and for identifying promising targets in the search for life on other planets. Most studies have focused on the likely chemistry of RNA, protein, lipid, or metabolic “worlds” and autocatalytic sets, including attempts to make life in the lab. But these efforts may be too narrowly focused on the biochemistry of life as we know it today. A radical rethink is necessary, one that explores not just plausible chemical scenarios but also new physical processes and driving forces. Such investigations could lead to a physical understanding not only of the origin of life but also of life itself, as well as to new tools for designing artificial biology.
Beyond prebiotic chemistry Leroy Cronin, Sara Imari Walker
One major threat to global food security that requires immediate attention, is the increasing incidence of host shift and host expansion in growing number of pathogenic fungi and emergence of new pathogens. The threat is more alarming because, yield quality and quantity improvement efforts are encouraging the cultivation of uniform plants with low genetic diversity that are increasingly susceptible to emerging pathogens. However, the influence of host genome differentiation on pathogen genome differentiation and its contribution to emergence and adaptability is still obscure. Here, we compared genome sequence of 6 isolates of Magnaporthe species obtained from three different host plants. We demonstrated the evolutionary relationship between Magnaporthe species and the influence of host differentiation on pathogens. Phylogenetic analysis showed that evolution of pathogen directly corresponds with host divergence, suggesting that host-pathogen interaction has led to co-evolution. Furthermore, we identified an asymmetric selection pressure on Magnaporthe species. Oryza sativa-infecting isolates showed higher directional selection from host and subsequently tends to lower the genetic diversity in its genome. We concluded that, frequent gene loss or gain, new transposon acquisition and sequence divergence are host adaptability mechanisms for Magnaporthe species, and this coevolution processes is greatly driven by directional selection from host plants.
Genomic plasticity enables adaptation to changing environments, which is especially relevant for pathogens that engage in 'arms races' with their hosts. In many pathogens, genes mediating virulence cluster in highly variable, transposon-rich, physically distinct genomic compartments. However, understanding of the evolution of these compartments, and the role of transposons therein, remains limited. Here, we show that transposons are the major driving force for adaptive genome evolution in the fungal plant pathogen Verticillium dahliae. We show that highly variable lineage-specific (LS) regions evolved by genomic rearrangements that are mediated by erroneous double-strand repair, often utilizing transposons. We furthermore show that recent genetic duplications are enhanced in LS regions, against an older episode of duplication events. Finally, LS regions are enriched in active transposons, which contribute to local genome plasticity. Thus, we provide evidence for genome shaping by transposons, both in an active and passive manner, which impacts the evolution of pathogen virulence.
For over 140 years, lichens have been regarded as a symbiosis between a single fungus, usually an ascomycete, and a photosynthesizing partner. Other fungi have long been known to occur as occasional parasites or endophytes, but the one lichen–one fungus paradigm has seldom been questioned. Here we show that many common lichens are composed of the known ascomycete, the photosynthesizing partner, and, unexpectedly, specific basidiomycete yeasts. These yeasts are embedded in the cortex, and their abundance correlates with previously unexplained variations in phenotype. Basidiomycete lineages maintain close associations with specific lichen species over large geographical distances and have been found on six continents. The structurally important lichen cortex, long treated as a zone of differentiated ascomycete cells, appears to consistently contain two unrelated fungi.
Eukaryotic DNA is strongly bent inside fundamental packaging units: the nucleosomes. It is known that their positions are strongly influenced by the mechanical properties of the underlying DNA sequence. Here we discuss the possibility that these mechanical properties and the concomitant nucleosome positions are not just a side product of the given DNA sequence, e.g. that of the genes, but that a mechanical evolution of DNA molecules might have taken place. We first demonstrate the possibility of multiplexing classical and mechanical genetic information using a computational nucleosome model. In a second step we give evidence for genome-wide multiplexing in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Schizosacharomyces pombe . This suggests that the exact positions of nucleosomes play crucial roles in chromatin function.
Arjen ten Have's insight:
And here comes another functional constraint at DNA level.
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