April 21, 2020  |  

Defining transgene insertion sites and off-target effects of homology-based gene silencing informs the use of functional genomics tools in Phytophthora infestans.

DNA transformation and homology-based transcriptional silencing are frequently used to assess gene function in Phytophthora. Since unplanned side-effects of these tools are not well-characterized, we used P. infestans to study plasmid integration sites and whether knockdowns caused by homology-dependent silencing spreads to other genes. Insertions occurred both in gene-dense and gene-sparse regions but disproportionately near the 5′ ends of genes, which disrupted native coding sequences. Microhomology at the recombination site between plasmid and chromosome was common. Studies of transformants silenced for twelve different gene targets indicated that neighbors within 500-nt were often co-silenced, regardless of whether hairpin or sense constructs were employed and the direction of transcription of the target. However, cis-spreading of silencing did not occur in all transformants obtained with the same plasmid. Genome-wide studies indicated that unlinked genes with partial complementarity with the silencing-inducing transgene were not usually down-regulated. We learned that hairpin or sense transgenes were not co-silenced with the target in all transformants, which informs how screens for silencing should be performed. We conclude that transformation and gene silencing can be reliable tools for functional genomics in Phytophthora but must be used carefully, especially by testing for the spread of silencing to genes flanking the target.


April 21, 2020  |  

Optimized Cas9 expression systems for highly efficient Arabidopsis genome editing facilitate isolation of complex alleles in a single generation.

Genetic resources for the model plant Arabidopsis comprise mutant lines defective in almost any single gene in reference accession Columbia. However, gene redundancy and/or close linkage often render it extremely laborious or even impossible to isolate a desired line lacking a specific function or set of genes from segregating populations. Therefore, we here evaluated strategies and efficiencies for the inactivation of multiple genes by Cas9-based nucleases and multiplexing. In first attempts, we succeeded in isolating a mutant line carrying a 70 kb deletion, which occurred at a frequency of ~?1.6% in the T2 generation, through PCR-based screening of numerous individuals. However, we failed to isolate a line lacking Lhcb1 genes, which are present in five copies organized at two loci in the Arabidopsis genome. To improve efficiency of our Cas9-based nuclease system, regulatory sequences controlling Cas9 expression levels and timing were systematically compared. Indeed, use of DD45 and RPS5a promoters improved efficiency of our genome editing system by approximately 25-30-fold in comparison to the previous ubiquitin promoter. Using an optimized genome editing system with RPS5a promoter-driven Cas9, putatively quintuple mutant lines lacking detectable amounts of Lhcb1 protein represented approximately 30% of T1 transformants. These results show how improved genome editing systems facilitate the isolation of complex mutant alleles, previously considered impossible to generate, at high frequency even in a single (T1) generation.


April 21, 2020  |  

Genome sequence and genetic transformation of a widely distributed and cultivated poplar.

Populus alba is widely distributed and cultivated in Europe and Asia. This species has been used for diverse studies. In this study, we assembled a de novo genome sequence of P. alba var. pyramidalis (= P. bolleana) and confirmed its high transformation efficiency and short transformation time by experiments. Through a process of hybrid genome assembly, a total of 464 M of the genome was assembled. Annotation analyses predicted 37 901 protein-coding genes. This genome is highly collinear to that of P. trichocarpa, with most genes having orthologs in the two species. We found a marked expansion of gene families related to histone and the hormone auxin but loss of disease resistance genes in P. alba if compared with the closely related P. trichocarpa. The genome sequence presented here represents a valuable resource for further molecular functional analyses of this species as a new tree model, poplar breeding practices and comparative genomic analyses across different poplars. © 2018 The Authors. Plant Biotechnology Journal published by Society for Experimental Biology and The Association of Applied Biologists and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


April 21, 2020  |  

Genome-Scale Sequence Disruption Following Biolistic Transformation in Rice and Maize.

Biolistic transformation delivers nucleic acids into plant cells by bombarding the cells with microprojectiles, which are micron-scale, typically gold particles. Despite the wide use of this technique, little is known about its effect on the cell’s genome. We biolistically transformed linear 48-kb phage lambda and two different circular plasmids into rice (Oryza sativa) and maize (Zea mays) and analyzed the results by whole genome sequencing and optical mapping. Although some transgenic events showed simple insertions, others showed extreme genome damage in the form of chromosome truncations, large deletions, partial trisomy, and evidence of chromothripsis and breakage-fusion bridge cycling. Several transgenic events contained megabase-scale arrays of introduced DNA mixed with genomic fragments assembled by nonhomologous or microhomology-mediated joining. Damaged regions of the genome, assayed by the presence of small fragments displaced elsewhere, were often repaired without a trace, presumably by homology-dependent repair (HDR). The results suggest a model whereby successful biolistic transformation relies on a combination of end joining to insert foreign DNA and HDR to repair collateral damage caused by the microprojectiles. The differing levels of genome damage observed among transgenic events may reflect the stage of the cell cycle and the availability of templates for HDR. © 2019 American Society of Plant Biologists. All rights reserved.


April 21, 2020  |  

Genome sequencing and CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing of an early flowering Mini-Citrus (Fortunella hindsii).

Hongkong kumquat (Fortunella hindsii) is a wild citrus species characterized by dwarf plant height and early flowering. Here, we identified the monoembryonic F. hindsii (designated as ‘Mini-Citrus’) for the first time and constructed its selfing lines. This germplasm constitutes an ideal model for the genetic and functional genomics studies of citrus, which have been severely hindered by the long juvenility and inherent apomixes of citrus. F. hindsii showed a very short juvenile period (~8 months) and stable monoembryonic phenotype under cultivation. We report the first de novo assembled 373.6 Mb genome sequences (Contig-N50 2.2 Mb and Scaffold-N50 5.2 Mb) for F. hindsii. In total, 32 257 protein-coding genes were annotated, 96.9% of which had homologues in other eight Citrinae species. The phylogenomic analysis revealed a close relationship of F. hindsii with cultivated citrus varieties, especially with mandarin. Furthermore, the CRISPR/Cas9 system was demonstrated to be an efficient strategy to generate target mutagenesis on F. hindsii. The modifications of target genes in the CRISPR-modified F. hindsii were predominantly 1-bp insertions or small deletions. This genetic transformation system based on F. hindsii could shorten the whole process from explant to T1 mutant to about 15 months. Overall, due to its short juvenility, monoembryony, close genetic background to cultivated citrus and applicability of CRISPR, F. hindsii shows unprecedented potentials to be used as a model species for citrus research. © 2019 The Authors. Plant Biotechnology Journal published by Society for Experimental Biology and The Association of Applied Biologists and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


April 21, 2020  |  

TSD: A Computational Tool To Study the Complex Structural Variants Using PacBio Targeted Sequencing Data.

PacBio sequencing is a powerful approach to study DNA or RNA sequences in a longer scope. It is especially useful in exploring the complex structural variants generated by random integration or multiple rearrangement of endogenous or exogenous sequences. Here, we present a tool, TSD, for complex structural variant discovery using PacBio targeted sequencing data. It allows researchers to identify and visualize the genomic structures of targeted sequences by unlimited splitting, alignment and assembly of long PacBio reads. Application to the sequencing data derived from an HBV integrated human cell line(PLC/PRF/5) indicated that TSD could recover the full profile of HBV integration events, especially for the regions with the complex human-HBV genome integrations and multiple HBV rearrangements. Compared to other long read analysis tools, TSD showed a better performance for detecting complex genomic structural variants. TSD is publicly available at: https://github.com/menggf/tsd. Copyright © 2019 Meng et al.


April 21, 2020  |  

The role of genomic structural variation in the genetic improvement of polyploid crops

Many of our major crop species are polyploids, containing more than one genome or set of chromosomes. Polyploid crops present unique challenges, including difficulties in genome assembly, in discriminating between multiple gene and sequence copies, and in genetic mapping, hindering use of genomic data for genetics and breeding. Polyploid genomes may also be more prone to containing structural variation, such as loss of gene copies or sequences (presence–absence variation) and the presence of genes or sequences in multiple copies (copy-number variation). Although the two main types of genomic structural variation commonly identified are presence–absence variation and copy-number variation, we propose that homeologous exchanges constitute a third major form of genomic structural variation in polyploids. Homeologous exchanges involve the replacement of one genomic segment by a similar copy from another genome or ancestrally duplicated region, and are known to be extremely common in polyploids. Detecting all kinds of genomic structural variation is challenging, but recent advances such as optical mapping and long-read sequencing offer potential strategies to help identify structural variants even in complex polyploid genomes. All three major types of genomic structural variation (presence–absence, copy-number, and homeologous exchange) are now known to influence phenotypes in crop plants, with examples of flowering time, frost tolerance, and adaptive and agronomic traits. In this review, we summarize the challenges of genome analysis in polyploid crops, describe the various types of genomic structural variation and the genomics technologies and data that can be used to detect them, and collate information produced to date related to the impact of genomic structural variation on crop phenotypes. We highlight the importance of genomic structural variation for the future genetic improvement of polyploid crops.


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.


April 21, 2020  |  

Whole Genome Sequencing of the Mutamouse Model Reveals Strain- and Colony-Level Variation, and Genomic Features of the Transgene Integration Site.

The MutaMouse transgenic rodent model is widely used for assessing in vivo mutagenicity. Here, we report the characterization of MutaMouse’s whole genome sequence and its genetic variants compared to the C57BL/6 reference genome. High coverage (>50X) next-generation sequencing (NGS) of whole genomes from multiple MutaMouse animals from the Health Canada (HC) colony showed ~5 million SNVs per genome, ~20% of which are putatively novel. Sequencing of two animals from a geographically separated colony at Covance indicated that, over the course of 23 years, each colony accumulated 47,847 (HC) and 17,677 (Covance) non-parental homozygous single nucleotide variants. We found no novel nonsense or missense mutations that impair the MutaMouse response to genotoxic agents. Pairing sequencing data with array comparative genomic hybridization (aCGH) improved the accuracy and resolution of copy number variants (CNVs) calls and identified 300 genomic regions with CNVs. We also used long-read sequence technology (PacBio) to show that the transgene integration site involved a large deletion event with multiple inversions and rearrangements near a retrotransposon. The MutaMouse genome gives important genetic context to studies using this model, offers insight on the mechanisms of structural variant formation, and contributes a framework to analyze aCGH results alongside NGS data.


April 21, 2020  |  

CRISPR/CAS9 targeted CAPTURE of mammalian genomic regions for characterization by NGS.

The robust detection of structural variants in mammalian genomes remains a challenge. It is particularly difficult in the case of genetically unstable Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cell lines with only draft genome assemblies available. We explore the potential of the CRISPR/Cas9 system for the targeted capture of genomic loci containing integrated vectors in CHO-K1-based cell lines followed by next generation sequencing (NGS), and compare it to popular target-enrichment sequencing methods and to whole genome sequencing (WGS). Three different CRISPR/Cas9-based techniques were evaluated; all of them allow for amplification-free enrichment of target genomic regions in the range from 5 to 60 fold, and for recovery of ~15 kb-long sequences with no sequencing artifacts introduced. The utility of these protocols has been proven by the identification of transgene integration sites and flanking sequences in three CHO cell lines. The long enriched fragments helped to identify Escherichia coli genome sequences co-integrated with vectors, and were further characterized by Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS). Other advantages of CRISPR/Cas9-based methods are the ease of bioinformatics analysis, potential for multiplexing, and the production of long target templates for real-time sequencing.


April 21, 2020  |  

Programmable mutually exclusive alternative splicing for generating RNA and protein diversity.

Alternative splicing performs a central role in expanding genomic coding capacity and proteomic diversity. However, programming of splicing patterns in engineered biological systems remains underused. Synthetic approaches thus far have predominantly focused on controlling expression of a single protein through alternative splicing. Here, we describe a modular and extensible platform for regulating four programmable exons that undergo a mutually exclusive alternative splicing event to generate multiple functionally-distinct proteins. We present an intron framework that enforces the mutual exclusivity of two internal exons and demonstrate a graded series of consensus sequence elements of varying strengths that set the ratio of two mutually exclusive isoforms. We apply this framework to program the DNA-binding domains of modular transcription factors to differentially control downstream gene activation. This splicing platform advances an approach for generating diverse isoforms and can ultimately be applied to program modular proteins and increase coding capacity of synthetic biological systems.


April 21, 2020  |  

Comprehensive characterization of T-DNA integration induced chromosomal rearrangement in a birch T-DNA mutant.

Integration of T-DNA into plant genomes via Agrobacterium may interrupt gene structure and generate numerous mutants. The T-DNA caused mutants are valuable materials for understanding T-DNA integration model in plant research. T-DNA integration in plants is complex and still largely unknown. In this work, we reported that multiple T-DNA fragments caused chromosomal translocation and deletion in a birch (Betula platyphylla × B. pendula) T-DNA mutant yl.We performed PacBio genome resequencing for yl and the result revealed that two ends of a T-DNA can be integrated into plant genome independently because the two ends can be linked to different chromosomes and cause chromosomal translocation. We also found that these T-DNA were connected into tandem fragment regardless of direction before integrating into plant genome. In addition, the integration of T-DNA in yl genome also caused several chromosomal fragments deletion. We then summarized three cases for T-DNA integration model in the yl genome. (1) A T-DNA fragment is linked to the two ends of a double-stranded break (DSB); (2) Only one end of a T-DNA fragment is linked to a DSB; (3) A T-DNA fragment is linked to the ends of different DSBs. All the observations in the yl genome supported the DSB repair model.In this study, we showed a comprehensive genome analysis of a T-DNA mutant and provide a new insight into T-DNA integration in plants. These findings would be helpful for the analysis of T-DNA mutants with special phenotypes.


April 21, 2020  |  

Development of a metabolic pathway transfer and genomic integration system for the syngas-fermenting bacterium Clostridium ljungdahlii.

Clostridium spp. can synthesize valuable chemicals and fuels by utilizing diverse waste-stream substrates, including starchy biomass, lignocellulose, and industrial waste gases. However, metabolic engineering in Clostridium spp. is challenging due to the low efficiency of gene transfer and genomic integration of entire biosynthetic pathways.We have developed a reliable gene transfer and genomic integration system for the syngas-fermenting bacterium Clostridium ljungdahlii based on the conjugal transfer of donor plasmids containing large transgene cassettes (>?5 kb) followed by the inducible activation of Himar1 transposase to promote integration. We established a conjugation protocol for the efficient generation of transconjugants using the Gram-positive origins of replication repL and repH. We also investigated the impact of DNA methylation on conjugation efficiency by testing donor constructs with all possible combinations of Dam and Dcm methylation patterns, and used bisulfite conversion and PacBio sequencing to determine the DNA methylation profile of the C. ljungdahlii genome, resulting in the detection of four sequence motifs with N6-methyladenosine. As proof of concept, we demonstrated the transfer and genomic integration of a heterologous acetone biosynthesis pathway using a Himar1 transposase system regulated by a xylose-inducible promoter. The functionality of the integrated pathway was confirmed by detecting enzyme proteotypic peptides and the formation of acetone and isopropanol by C. ljungdahlii cultures utilizing syngas as a carbon and energy source.The developed multi-gene delivery system offers a versatile tool to integrate and stably express large biosynthetic pathways in the industrial promising syngas-fermenting microorganism C. ljungdahlii. The simple transfer and stable integration of large gene clusters (like entire biosynthetic pathways) is expanding the range of possible fermentation products of heterologously expressing recombinant strains. We also believe that the developed gene delivery system can be adapted to other clostridial strains as well.


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  |  

AAV-mediated delivery of zinc finger nucleases targeting hepatitis B virus inhibits active replication.

Despite an existing effective vaccine, hepatitis B virus (HBV) remains a major public health concern. There are effective suppressive therapies for HBV, but they remain expensive and inaccessible to many, and not all patients respond well. Furthermore, HBV can persist as genomic covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) that remains in hepatocytes even during otherwise effective therapy and facilitates rebound in patients after treatment has stopped. Therefore, the need for an effective treatment that targets active and persistent HBV infections remains. As a novel approach to treat HBV, we have targeted the HBV genome for disruption to prevent viral reactivation and replication. We generated 3 zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) that target sequences within the HBV polymerase, core and X genes. Upon the formation of ZFN-induced DNA double strand breaks (DSB), imprecise repair by non-homologous end joining leads to mutations that inactivate HBV genes. We delivered HBV-specific ZFNs using self-complementary adeno-associated virus (scAAV) vectors and tested their anti-HBV activity in HepAD38 cells. HBV-ZFNs efficiently disrupted HBV target sites by inducing site-specific mutations. Cytotoxicity was seen with one of the ZFNs. scAAV-mediated delivery of a ZFN targeting HBV polymerase resulted in complete inhibition of HBV DNA replication and production of infectious HBV virions in HepAD38 cells. This effect was sustained for at least 2 weeks following only a single treatment. Furthermore, high specificity was observed for all ZFNs, as negligible off-target cleavage was seen via high-throughput sequencing of 7 closely matched potential off-target sites. These results show that HBV-targeted ZFNs can efficiently inhibit active HBV replication and suppress the cellular template for HBV persistence, making them promising candidates for eradication therapy.


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