July 19, 2019  |  

Single molecule-level detection and long read-based phasing of epigenetic variations in bacterial methylomes.

Beyond its role in host defense, bacterial DNA methylation also plays important roles in the regulation of gene expression, virulence and antibiotic resistance. Bacterial cells in a clonal population can generate epigenetic heterogeneity to increase population-level phenotypic plasticity. Single molecule, real-time (SMRT) sequencing enables the detection of N6-methyladenine and N4-methylcytosine, two major types of DNA modifications comprising the bacterial methylome. However, existing SMRT sequencing-based methods for studying bacterial methylomes rely on a population-level consensus that lacks the single-cell resolution required to observe epigenetic heterogeneity. Here, we present SMALR (single-molecule modification analysis of long reads), a novel framework for single molecule-level detection and phasing of DNA methylation. Using seven bacterial strains, we show that SMALR yields significantly improved resolution and reveals distinct types of epigenetic heterogeneity. SMALR is a powerful new tool that enables de novo detection of epigenetic heterogeneity and empowers investigation of its functions in bacterial populations.


July 19, 2019  |  

SMRT genome assembly corrects reference errors, resolving the genetic basis of virulence in Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

The genetic basis of virulence in Mycobacterium tuberculosis has been investigated through genome comparisons of virulent (H37Rv) and attenuated (H37Ra) sister strains. Such analysis, however, relies heavily on the accuracy of the sequences. While the H37Rv reference genome has had several corrections to date, that of H37Ra is unmodified since its original publication.Here, we report the assembly and finishing of the H37Ra genome from single-molecule, real-time (SMRT) sequencing. Our assembly reveals that the number of H37Ra-specific variants is less than half of what the Sanger-based H37Ra reference sequence indicates, undermining and, in some cases, invalidating the conclusions of several studies. PE_PPE family genes, which are intractable to commonly-used sequencing platforms because of their repetitive and GC-rich nature, are overrepresented in the set of genes in which all reported H37Ra-specific variants are contradicted. Further, one of the sequencing errors in H37Ra masks a true variant in common with the clinical strain CDC1551 which, when considered in the context of previous work, corresponds to a sequencing error in the H37Rv reference genome.Our results constrain the set of genomic differences possibly affecting virulence by more than half, which focuses laboratory investigation on pertinent targets and demonstrates the power of SMRT sequencing for producing high-quality reference genomes.


July 19, 2019  |  

A comparative study on the characterization of hepatitis B virus quasispecies by clone-based sequencing and third-generation sequencing.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) has a high mutation rate due to the extremely high replication rate and the proofreading deficiency during reverse transcription. The generated variants with genetic heterogeneity are described as viral quasispecies (QS). Clone-based sequencing (CBS) is thought to be the ‘gold standard’ for assessing QS complexity and diversity of HBV, but an important issue about CBS is cost-effectiveness and laborious. In this study, we investigated the utility of the third-generation sequencing (TGS) DNA sequencing to characterize genetic heterogeneity of HBV QS and assessed the possible contribution of TGS technology in HBV QS studies. Parallel experiments including 3 control samples, which consisted of HBV full gene genotype B and genotype C plasmids, and 10 patients samples were performed by using CBS and TGS to analyze HBV whole-genome QS. Characterization of QS heterogeneity was conducted by using comprehensive statistical analysis. The results showed that TGS had a high consistency with CBS when measuring the complexity and diversity of QS. In addition, to detect rare variants, there were strong advantages conferred by TGS. In summary, TGS was considered to be practicable in HBV QS studies and it might have a relevant role in the clinical management of HBV infection in the future.


July 7, 2019  |  

A multidrug resistance plasmid contains the molecular switch for type VI secretion in Acinetobacter baumannii.

Infections with Acinetobacter baumannii, one of the most troublesome and least studied multidrug-resistant superbugs, are increasing at alarming rates. A. baumannii encodes a type VI secretion system (T6SS), an antibacterial apparatus of Gram-negative bacteria used to kill competitors. Expression of the T6SS varies among different strains of A. baumannii, for which the regulatory mechanisms are unknown. Here, we show that several multidrug-resistant strains of A. baumannii harbor a large, self-transmissible resistance plasmid that carries the negative regulators for T6SS. T6SS activity is silenced in plasmid-containing, antibiotic-resistant cells, while part of the population undergoes frequent plasmid loss and activation of the T6SS. This activation results in T6SS-mediated killing of competing bacteria but renders A. baumannii susceptible to antibiotics. Our data show that a plasmid that has evolved to harbor antibiotic resistance genes plays a role in the differentiation of cells specialized in the elimination of competing bacteria.


July 7, 2019  |  

Recombination rate heterogeneity within Arabidopsis disease resistance genes.

Meiotic crossover frequency varies extensively along chromosomes and is typically concentrated in hotspots. As recombination increases genetic diversity, hotspots are predicted to occur at immunity genes, where variation may be beneficial. A major component of plant immunity is recognition of pathogen Avirulence (Avr) effectors by resistance (R) genes that encode NBS-LRR domain proteins. Therefore, we sought to test whether NBS-LRR genes would overlap with meiotic crossover hotspots using experimental genetics in Arabidopsis thaliana. NBS-LRR genes tend to physically cluster in plant genomes; for example, in Arabidopsis most are located in large clusters on the south arms of chromosomes 1 and 5. We experimentally mapped 1,439 crossovers within these clusters and observed NBS-LRR gene associated hotspots, which were also detected as historical hotspots via analysis of linkage disequilibrium. However, we also observed NBS-LRR gene coldspots, which in some cases correlate with structural heterozygosity. To study recombination at the fine-scale we used high-throughput sequencing to analyze ~1,000 crossovers within the RESISTANCE TO ALBUGO CANDIDA1 (RAC1) R gene hotspot. This revealed elevated intragenic crossovers, overlapping nucleosome-occupied exons that encode the TIR, NBS and LRR domains. The highest RAC1 recombination frequency was promoter-proximal and overlapped CTT-repeat DNA sequence motifs, which have previously been associated with plant crossover hotspots. Additionally, we show a significant influence of natural genetic variation on NBS-LRR cluster recombination rates, using crosses between Arabidopsis ecotypes. In conclusion, we show that a subset of NBS-LRR genes are strong hotspots, whereas others are coldspots. This reveals a complex recombination landscape in Arabidopsis NBS-LRR genes, which we propose results from varying coevolutionary pressures exerted by host-pathogen relationships, and is influenced by structural heterozygosity.


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