June 1, 2021  |  

Long-read assembly of the Aedes aegypti Aag2 cell line genome resolves ancient endogenous viral elements

Transmission of arboviruses such as Dengue Virus by Aedes aegypti causes debilitating disease across the globe. Disease in humans can include severe acute symptoms such as hemorrhagic fever and organ failure, but mosquitoes tolerate high titers of virus in a persistent infection. The mechanisms responsible for this viral tolerance are unclear. Recent publications highlighted the integration of genetic material from non-retroviral RNA viruses into the genome of the host during infection that relies upon endogenous retro-transcriptase activity from transposons. These endogenous viral elements (EVEs) found in the genome are predicted to be ancient, and at least some EVEs are under purifying selection, suggesting they are beneficial to the host. To characterize EVE biogenesis in a tractable system, we sequenced the Ae. aegypti cell line, Aag2, to 58-fold coverage and present a de novo assembly of the genome. The assembly contains 1.7 Gb of genomic and 255 Mb of alternative haplotype specific sequence, consisting of contigs with a N50 of 1.4 Mb; a value that, when compared with other assemblies of the Aedes genus, is from 1-3 orders of magnitude longer. The Aag2 genome is highly repetitive (70%), most of which is classified as transposable elements (60%). We identify EVEs in the genome homologous to a range of extant viruses, many of which cluster in these regions of repetitive DNA. The contiguous assembly allows for more comprehensive identification of the transposable elements and EVEs that are most likely to be lost in assemblies lacking the read length of SMRT Sequencing.


April 21, 2020  |  

High-Resolution Evolutionary Analysis of Within-Host Hepatitis C Virus Infection.

Despite recent breakthroughs in treatment of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, we have limited understanding of how virus diversity generated within individuals impacts the evolution and spread of HCV variants at the population scale. Addressing this gap is important for identifying the main sources of disease transmission and evaluating the risk of drug-resistance mutations emerging and disseminating in a population.We have undertaken a high-resolution analysis of HCV within-host evolution from 4 individuals coinfected with human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1). We used long-read, deep-sequenced data of full-length HCV envelope glycoprotein, longitudinally sampled from acute to chronic HCV infection to investigate the underlying viral population and evolutionary dynamics.We found statistical support for population structure maintaining the within-host HCV genetic diversity in 3 out of 4 individuals. We also report the first population genetic estimate of the within-host recombination rate for HCV (0.28 × 10-7 recombination/site/year), which is considerably lower than that estimated for HIV-1 and the overall nucleotide substitution rate estimated during HCV infection.Our findings indicate that population structure and strong genetic linkage shapes within-host HCV evolutionary dynamics. These results will guide the future investigation of potential HCV drug resistance adaptation during infection, and at the population scale. © The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.


April 21, 2020  |  

Development of CRISPR-Cas systems for genome editing and beyond

The development of clustered regularly interspaced short-palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-Cas systems for genome editing has transformed the way life science research is conducted and holds enormous potential for the treatment of disease as well as for many aspects of biotech- nology. Here, I provide a personal perspective on the development of CRISPR-Cas9 for genome editing within the broader context of the field and discuss our work to discover novel Cas effectors and develop them into additional molecular tools. The initial demonstra- tion of Cas9-mediated genome editing launched the development of many other technologies, enabled new lines of biological inquiry, and motivated a deeper examination of natural CRISPR-Cas systems, including the discovery of new types of CRISPR-Cas systems. These new discoveries in turn spurred further technological developments. I review these exciting discoveries and technologies as well as provide an overview of the broad array of applications of these technologies in basic research and in the improvement of human health. It is clear that we are only just beginning to unravel the potential within microbial diversity, and it is quite likely that we will continue to discover other exciting phenomena, some of which it may be possible to repurpose as molecular technologies. The transformation of mysterious natural phenomena to powerful tools, however, takes a collective effort to discover, characterize, and engineer them, and it has been a privilege to join the numerous researchers who have contributed to this transformation of CRISPR-Cas systems.


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