June 1, 2021  |  

Highly sensitive, non-invasive detection of colorectal cancer mutations using single molecule, third generation sequencing.

Colorectal cancer (CRC) represents one of the most prevalent and lethal malignant neoplasms and every individual of age 50 and above should undergo regular CRC screening. Currently, the most effective procedure to detect adenomas, the precursors to CRC, is colonoscopy, which reduces CRC incidence by 80%. However, it is an invasive approach that is unpleasant for the patient, expensive, and poses some risk of complications such as colon perforation. A non-invasive screening approach with detection rates comparable to those of colonoscopy has not yet been established. The current study applies Pacific Biosciences third generation, single molecule sequencing to the inspection of CRC-driving mutations. Our approach combines the screening power and the extremely high accuracy of circular consensus (CCS) third generation sequencing with the non-invasiveness of using stool DNA to detect CRC-associated mutations present at extremely low frequencies and establishes a foundation for a non-invasive, highly sensitive assay to screen the population for CRC and early stage adenomas. We performed a series of experiments using a pool of fifteen amplicons covering the genes most frequently mutated in CRC (APC, Beta Catenin, KRAS, BRAF, and TP53), ensuring a theoretical screening coverage of over 97% for both CRC and adenomas. The assay was able to detect mutations in DNA isolated from stool samples from patients diagnosed with CRC at frequencies below 0.5 % with no false positives. The mutations were then confirmed by sequencing DNA isolated from the excised tumor samples. Our assay should be sensitive enough to allow the early identification of adenomatous polyps using stool DNA as analyte. In conclusion, we have developed an assay to detect mutations in the genes associated with CRC and adenomas using Pacific Biosciences RS Single Molecule, Real Time Circular Consensus Sequencing (SMRT-CCS). With no systematic bias and a much higher raw base-calling quality (CCS) compared to other sequencing methods, the assay was able to detect mutations in stool DNA at frequencies below 0.5 % with no false positives. This level of sensitivity should be sufficient to allow the detection of most adenomatous polyps using stool DNA as analyte, a feature that would make our approach the first non-invasive assay with a sensitivity comparable to that of colonoscopy and a strong candidate for the non-invasive preventive CRC screening of the general population.


April 21, 2020  |  

Petunia-and Arabidopsis-Specific Root Microbiota Responses to Phosphate Supplementation

Phosphorus (P) is a limiting element for plant growth. Several root microbes, including arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), have the capacity to improve plant nutrition and their abundance is known to depend on P fertility. However, how complex root-associated bacterial and fungal communities respond to various levels of P supplementation remains ill-defined. Here we investigated the responses of the root-associated bacteria and fungi to varying levels of P supply using 16S rRNA gene and internal transcribed spacer amplicon sequencing. We grew Petunia, which forms symbiosis with AMF, and the nonmycorrhizal model species Arabidopsis as a control in a soil that is limiting in plant-available P and we then supplemented the plants with complete fertilizer solutions that varied only in their phosphate concentrations. We searched for microbes, whose abundances varied by P fertilization, tested whether a core microbiota responding to the P treatments could be identified and asked whether bacterial and fungal co-occurrence patterns change in response to the varying P levels. Root microbiota composition varied substantially in response to the varying P application. A core microbiota was not identified as different bacterial and fungal groups responded to low-P conditions in Arabidopsis and Petunia. Microbes with P-dependent abundance patterns included Mortierellomycotina in Arabidopsis, while in Petunia, they included AMF and their symbiotic endobacteria. Of note, the P-dependent root colonization by AMF was reliably quantified by sequencing. The fact that the root microbiotas of the two plant species responded differently to low-P conditions suggests that plant species specificity would need to be considered for the eventual development of microbial products that improve plant P nutrition.


April 21, 2020  |  

Linking CRISPR-Cas9 interference in cassava to the evolution of editing-resistant geminiviruses.

Geminiviruses cause damaging diseases in several important crop species. However, limited progress has been made in developing crop varieties resistant to these highly diverse DNA viruses. Recently, the bacterial CRISPR/Cas9 system has been transferred to plants to target and confer immunity to geminiviruses. In this study, we use CRISPR-Cas9 interference in the staple food crop cassava with the aim of engineering resistance to African cassava mosaic virus, a member of a widespread and important family (Geminiviridae) of plant-pathogenic DNA viruses.Our results show that the CRISPR system fails to confer effective resistance to the virus during glasshouse inoculations. Further, we find that between 33 and 48% of edited virus genomes evolve a conserved single-nucleotide mutation that confers resistance to CRISPR-Cas9 cleavage. We also find that in the model plant Nicotiana benthamiana the replication of the novel, mutant virus is dependent on the presence of the wild-type virus.Our study highlights the risks associated with CRISPR-Cas9 virus immunity in eukaryotes given that the mutagenic nature of the system generates viral escapes in a short time period. Our in-depth analysis of virus populations also represents a template for future studies analyzing virus escape from anti-viral CRISPR transgenics. This is especially important for informing regulation of such actively mutagenic applications of CRISPR-Cas9 technology in agriculture.


October 23, 2019  |  

CRISPR/Cas9-generated p47(phox)-deficient cell line for Chronic Granulomatous Disease gene therapy vector development.

Development of gene therapy vectors requires cellular models reflecting the genetic background of a disease thus allowing for robust preclinical vector testing. For human p47(phox)-deficient chronic granulomatous disease (CGD) vector testing we generated a cellular model using clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/Cas9 to introduce a GT-dinucleotide deletion (?GT) mutation in p47(phox) encoding NCF1 gene in the human acute myeloid leukemia PLB-985 cell line. CGD is a group of hereditary immunodeficiencies characterized by impaired respiratory burst activity in phagocytes due to a defective phagocytic nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) oxidase. In Western countries autosomal-recessive p47(phox)-subunit deficiency represents the second largest CGD patient cohort with unique genetics, as the vast majority of p47(phox) CGD patients carries ?GT deletion in exon two of the NCF1 gene. The established PLB-985 NCF1 ?GT cell line reflects the most frequent form of p47(phox)-deficient CGD genetically and functionally. It can be differentiated to granulocytes efficiently, what creates an attractive alternative to currently used iPSC models for rapid testing of novel gene therapy approaches.


September 22, 2019  |  

Community profiling of Fusarium in combination with other plant associated fungi in different crop species using SMRT Sequencing.

Fusarium head blight, caused by fungi from the genus Fusarium, is one of the most harmful cereal diseases, resulting not only in severe yield losses but also in mycotoxin contaminated and health-threatening grains. Fusarium head blight is caused by a diverse set of species that have different host ranges, mycotoxin profiles and responses to agricultural practices. Thus, understanding the composition of Fusarium communities in the field is crucial for estimating their impact and also for the development of effective control measures. Up to now, most molecular tools that monitor Fusarium communities on plants are limited to certain species and do not distinguish other plant associated fungi. To close these gaps, we developed a sequencing-based community profiling methodology for crop-associated fungi with a focus on the genus Fusarium. By analyzing a 1600 bp long amplicon spanning the highly variable segments ITS and D1-D3 of the ribosomal operon by PacBio SMRT sequencing, we were able to robustly quantify Fusarium down to species level through clustering against reference sequences. The newly developed methodology was successfully validated in mock communities and provided similar results as the culture-based assessment of Fusarium communities by seed health tests in grain samples from different crop species. Finally, we exemplified the newly developed methodology in a field experiment with a wheat-maize crop sequence under different cover crop and tillage regimes. We analyzed wheat straw residues, cover crop shoots and maize grains and we could reveal that the cover crop hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) acts as a potent alternative host for Fusarium (OTU F.ave/tri) showing an eightfold higher relative abundance compared with other cover crop treatments. Moreover, as the newly developed methodology also allows to trace other crop-associated fungi, we found that vetch and green fallow hosted further fungal plant pathogens including Zymoseptoria tritici. Thus, besides their beneficial traits, cover crops can also entail phytopathological risks by acting as alternative hosts for Fusarium and other noxious plant pathogens. The newly developed sequencing based methodology is a powerful diagnostic tool to trace Fusarium in combination with other fungi associated to different crop species.


September 22, 2019  |  

Genomic imprinting mediates dosage compensation in a young plant XY system.

Sex chromosomes have repeatedly evolved from a pair of autosomes. Consequently, X and Y chromosomes initially have similar gene content, but ongoing Y degeneration leads to reduced expression and eventual loss of Y genes1. The resulting imbalance in gene expression between Y genes and the rest of the genome is expected to reduce male fitness, especially when protein networks have components from both autosomes and sex chromosomes. A diverse set of dosage compensating mechanisms that alleviates these negative effects has been described in animals2-4. However, the early steps in the evolution of dosage compensation remain unknown, and dosage compensation is poorly understood in plants5. Here, we describe a dosage compensation mechanism in the evolutionarily young XY sex determination system of the plant Silene latifolia. Genomic imprinting results in higher expression from the maternal X chromosome in both males and females. This compensates for reduced Y expression in males, but results in X overexpression in females and may be detrimental. It could represent a transient early stage in the evolution of dosage compensation. Our finding has striking resemblance to the first stage proposed by Ohno6 for the evolution of X inactivation in mammals.


September 22, 2019  |  

High-resolution community profiling of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.

Community analyses of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) using ribosomal small subunit (SSU) or internal transcribed spacer (ITS) DNA sequences often suffer from low resolution or coverage. We developed a novel sequencing based approach for a highly resolving and specific profiling of AMF communities. We took advantage of previously established AMF-specific PCR primers that amplify a c. 1.5-kb long fragment covering parts of SSU, ITS and parts of the large ribosomal subunit (LSU), and we sequenced the resulting amplicons with single molecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing. The method was applicable to soil and root samples, detected all major AMF families and successfully discriminated closely related AMF species, which would not be discernible using SSU sequences. In inoculation tests we could trace the introduced AMF inoculum at the molecular level. One of the introduced strains almost replaced the local strain(s), revealing that AMF inoculation can have a profound impact on the native community. The methodology presented offers researchers a powerful new tool for AMF community analysis because it unifies improved specificity and enhanced resolution, whereas the drawback of medium sequencing throughput appears of lesser importance for low-diversity groups such as AMF.© 2016 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2016 New Phytologist Trust.


September 22, 2019  |  

The genomes of Crithidia bombi and C. expoeki, common parasites of bumblebees.

Trypanosomatids (Trypanosomatidae, Kinetoplastida) are flagellated protozoa containing many parasites of medical or agricultural importance. Among those, Crithidia bombi and C. expoeki, are common parasites in bumble bees around the world, and phylogenetically close to Leishmania and Leptomonas. They have a simple and direct life cycle with one host, and partially castrate the founding queens greatly reducing their fitness. Here, we report the nuclear genome sequences of one clone of each species, extracted from a field-collected infection. Using a combination of Roche 454 FLX Titanium, Pacific Biosciences PacBio RS, and Illumina GA2 instruments for C. bombi, and PacBio for C. expoeki, we could produce high-quality and well resolved sequences. We find that these genomes are around 32 and 34 MB, with 7,808 and 7,851 annotated genes for C. bombi and C. expoeki, respectively-which is somewhat less than reported from other trypanosomatids, with few introns, and organized in polycistronic units. A large fraction of genes received plausible functional support in comparison primarily with Leishmania and Trypanosoma. Comparing the annotated genes of the two species with those of six other trypanosomatids (C. fasciculata, L. pyrrhocoris, L. seymouri, B. ayalai, L. major, and T. brucei) shows similar gene repertoires and many orthologs. Similar to other trypanosomatids, we also find signs of concerted evolution in genes putatively involved in the interaction with the host, a high degree of synteny between C. bombi and C. expoeki, and considerable overlap with several other species in the set. A total of 86 orthologous gene groups show signatures of positive selection in the branch leading to the two Crithidia under study, mostly of unknown function. As an example, we examined the initiating glycosylation pathway of surface components in C. bombi, finding it deviates from most other eukaryotes and also from other kinetoplastids, which may indicate rapid evolution in the extracellular matrix that is involved in interactions with the host. Bumble bees are important pollinators and Crithidia-infections are suspected to cause substantial selection pressure on their host populations. These newly sequenced genomes provide tools that should help better understand host-parasite interactions in these pollinator pathogens.


September 22, 2019  |  

Pangenome analyses of the wheat pathogen Zymoseptoria tritici reveal the structural basis of a highly plastic eukaryotic genome.

Structural variation contributes substantially to polymorphism within species. Chromosomal rearrangements that impact genes can lead to functional variation among individuals and influence the expression of phenotypic traits. Genomes of fungal pathogens show substantial chromosomal polymorphism that can drive virulence evolution on host plants. Assessing the adaptive significance of structural variation is challenging, because most studies rely on inferences based on a single reference genome sequence.We constructed and analyzed the pangenome of Zymoseptoria tritici, a major pathogen of wheat that evolved host specialization by chromosomal rearrangements and gene deletions. We used single-molecule real-time sequencing and high-density genetic maps to assemble multiple genomes. We annotated the gene space based on transcriptomics data that covered the infection life cycle of each strain. Based on a total of five telomere-to-telomere genomes, we constructed a pangenome for the species and identified a core set of 9149 genes. However, an additional 6600 genes were exclusive to a subset of the isolates. The substantial accessory genome encoded on average fewer expressed genes but a larger fraction of the candidate effector genes that may interact with the host during infection. We expanded our analyses of the pangenome to a worldwide collection of 123 isolates of the same species. We confirmed that accessory genes were indeed more likely to show deletion polymorphisms and loss-of-function mutations compared to core genes.The pangenome construction of a highly polymorphic eukaryotic pathogen showed that a single reference genome significantly underestimates the gene space of a species. The substantial accessory genome provides a cradle for adaptive evolution.


September 22, 2019  |  

Pseudomonas orientalis F9: A potent antagonist against phytopathogens with phytotoxic effect in the apple flower.

In light of public concerns over the use of pesticides and antibiotics in plant protection and the subsequent selection for spread of resistant bacteria in the environment, it is inevitable to broaden our knowledge about viable alternatives, such as natural antagonists and their mode of action. The genus Pseudomonas is known for its metabolic versatility and genetic plasticity, encompassing pathogens as well as antagonists. We characterized strain Pseudomonas orientalis F9, an isolate from apple flowers in a Swiss orchard, and determined its antagonistic activity against several phytopathogenic bacteria, in particular Erwinia amylovora, the causal agent of fire blight. P. orientalis F9 displayed antagonistic activity against a broad suite of phytopathogenic bacteria in the in vitro tests. The promising results from this analysis led to an ex vivo assay with E. amylovora CFBP1430Rif and P. orientalis F9 infected detached apple flowers. F9 diminished the fire blight pathogen in the flowers but also revealed phytotoxic traits. The experimental results were discussed in light of the complete genome sequence of F9, which revealed the strain to carry phenazine genes. Phenazines are known to contribute to antagonistic activity of bacterial strains against soil pathogens. When tested in the cress assay with Pythium ultimum as pathogen, F9 showed results comparable to the known antagonist P. protegens CHA0.


September 22, 2019  |  

The genome of Naegleria lovaniensis, the basis for a comparative approach to unravel pathogenicity factors of the human pathogenic amoeba N. fowleri.

Members of the genus Naegleria are free-living eukaryotes with the capability to transform from the amoeboid form into resting cysts or moving flagellates in response to environmental conditions. More than 40 species have been characterized, but only Naegleria fowleri (N. fowleri) is known as a human pathogen causing primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a fast progressing and mostly fatal disease of the central nervous system. Several studies report an involvement of phospholipases and other molecular factors, but the mechanisms involved in pathogenesis are still poorly understood. To gain a better understanding of the relationships within the genus of Naegleria and to investigate pathogenicity factors of N. fowleri, we characterized the genome of its closest non-pathogenic relative N. lovaniensis.To gain insights into the taxonomy of Naegleria, we sequenced the genome of N. lovaniensis using long read sequencing technology. The assembly of the data resulted in a 30 Mb genome including the circular mitochondrial sequence. Unravelling the phylogenetic relationship using OrthoMCL protein clustering and maximum likelihood methods confirms the close relationship of N. lovaniensis and N. fowleri. To achieve an overview of the diversity of Naegleria proteins and to assess characteristics of the human pathogen N. fowleri, OrthoMCL protein clustering including data of N. fowleri, N. lovaniensis and N. gruberi was performed. GO enrichment analysis shows an association of N. fowleri specific proteins to the GO terms “Membrane” and “Protein Secretion.”In this study, we characterize the hitherto unknown genome of N. lovaniensis. With the description of the 30 Mb genome, a further piece is added to reveal the complex taxonomic relationship of Naegleria. Further, the whole genome sequencing data confirms the hypothesis of the close relationship between N. fowleri and N. lovaniensis. Therefore, the genome of N. lovaniensis provides the basis for further comparative approaches on the molecular and genomic level to unravel pathogenicity factors of its closest human pathogenic relative N. fowleri and possible treatment options for the rare but mostly fatal primary meningoencephalitis.


September 22, 2019  |  

Extraordinary genome instability and widespread chromosome rearrangements during vegetative growth

The haploid genome of the pathogenic fungus Zymoseptoria tritici is contained on “core” and “accessory” chromosomes. While 13 core chromosomes are found in all strains, as many as eight accessory chromosomes show presence/absence variation and rearrangements among field isolates. The factors influencing these presence/absence polymorphisms are so far unknown. We investigated chromosome stability using experimental evolution, karyotyping, and genome sequencing. We report extremely high and variable rates of accessory chromosome loss during mitotic propagation in vitro and in planta Spontaneous chromosome loss was observed in 2 to >50% of cells during 4 weeks of incubation. Similar rates of chromosome loss in the closely related Zymoseptoria ardabiliae suggest that this extreme chromosome dynamic is a conserved phenomenon in the genus. Elevating the incubation temperature greatly increases instability of accessory and even core chromosomes, causing severe rearrangements involving telomere fusion and chromosome breakage. Chromosome losses do not affect the fitness of Zymoseptoria tritici in vitro, but some lead to increased virulence, suggesting an adaptive role of this extraordinary chromosome instability. Copyright © 2018 by the Genetics Society of America.


September 22, 2019  |  

Tracing back multidrug-resistant bacteria in fresh herb production: from chive to source through the irrigation water chain.

Environmental antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB) can be transferred to humans through foods. Fresh produce in particular is an ideal vector due to frequent raw consumption. A major contamination source of fresh produce is irrigation water. We hypothesized that water quality significantly affects loads of ARB and their diversity on fresh produce despite various other contamination sources present under agricultural practice conditions. Chive irrigated from an open-top reservoir or sterile-filtered water (control) was examined. Heterotrophic plate counts (HPC) and ARB were determined for water and chive with emphasis on Escherichia coli and Enterococcus spp. High HPC of freshly planted chive decreased over time and were significantly lower on control- vs. reservoir-irrigated chive at harvest (1.3 log (CFU/g) lower). Ciprofloxacin- and ceftazidime-resistant bacteria were significantly lower on control-irrigated chive at harvest and end of shelf life (up to 1.8 log (CFU/g) lower). Escherichia coli and Enterococcus spp. repeatedly isolated from water and chive proved resistant to up to six or four antibiotic classes (80% or 49% multidrug-resistant, respectively). Microbial source tracking identified E. coli-ST1056 along the irrigation chain and on chive. Whole-genome sequencing revealed that E. coli-ST1056 from both environments were clonal and carried the same transmissible multidrug-resistance plasmid, proving water as source of chive contamination. These findings emphasize the urgent need for guidelines concerning ARB in irrigation water and development of affordable water disinfection technologies to diminish ARB on irrigated produce.


September 22, 2019  |  

Antibiotic-resistant indicator bacteria in irrigation water: High prevalence of extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL)-producing Escherichia coli.

Irrigation water is a major source of fresh produce contamination with undesired microorganisms including antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB), and contaminated fresh produce can transfer ARB to the consumer especially when consumed raw. Nevertheless, no legal guidelines exist so far regulating quality of irrigation water with respect to ARB. We therefore examined irrigation water from major vegetable growing areas for occurrence of antibiotic-resistant indicator bacteria Escherichia coli and Enterococcus spp., including extended-spectrum ß-lactamase (ESBL)-producing E. coli and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus spp. Occurrence of ARB strains was compared to total numbers of the respective species. We categorized water samples according to total numbers and found that categories with higher total E. coli or Enterococcus spp. numbers generally had an increased proportion of respective ARB-positive samples. We further detected high prevalence of ESBL-producing E. coli with eight positive samples of thirty-six (22%), while two presumptive vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus spp. were vancomycin-susceptible in confirmatory tests. In disk diffusion assays all ESBL-producing E. coli were multidrug-resistant (n = 21) and whole-genome sequencing of selected strains revealed a multitude of transmissible resistance genes (ARG), with blaCTX-M-1 (4 of 11) and blaCTX-M-15 (3 of 11) as the most frequent ESBL genes. Overall, the increased occurrence of indicator ARB with increased total indicator bacteria suggests that the latter might be a suitable estimate for presence of respective ARB strains. Finally, the high prevalence of ESBL-producing E. coli with transmissible ARG emphasizes the need to establish legal critical values and monitoring guidelines for ARB in irrigation water.


September 21, 2019  |  

Mistranslation drives the evolution of robustness in TEM-1 ß-lactamase.

How biological systems such as proteins achieve robustness to ubiquitous perturbations is a fundamental biological question. Such perturbations include errors that introduce phenotypic mutations into nascent proteins during the translation of mRNA. These errors are remarkably frequent. They are also costly, because they reduce protein stability and help create toxic misfolded proteins. Adaptive evolution might reduce these costs of protein mistranslation by two principal mechanisms. The first increases the accuracy of translation via synonymous “high fidelity” codons at especially sensitive sites. The second increases the robustness of proteins to phenotypic errors via amino acids that increase protein stability. To study how these mechanisms are exploited by populations evolving in the laboratory, we evolved the antibiotic resistance gene TEM-1 in Escherichia coli hosts with either normal or high rates of mistranslation. We analyzed TEM-1 populations that evolved under relaxed and stringent selection for antibiotic resistance by single molecule real-time sequencing. Under relaxed selection, mistranslating populations reduce mistranslation costs by reducing TEM-1 expression. Under stringent selection, they efficiently purge destabilizing amino acid changes. More importantly, they accumulate stabilizing amino acid changes rather than synonymous changes that increase translational accuracy. In the large populations we study, and on short evolutionary timescales, the path of least resistance in TEM-1 evolution consists of reducing the consequences of translation errors rather than the errors themselves.


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