Joseph Felsenstein is Professor in the Departments of Genome Sciences and Biology and Adjunct Professor in the Departments of Computer Science and Statistics at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is best known for his work on phylogenetic inference, and is the author of Inferring Phylogenies, and principal author and distributor of the package of phylogenetic inference programs called PHYLIP, and is currently serving as the President of the Society for Molecular Biology & Evolution.

You can reach Joe at

James McInerney is the principle investigator of the Bioinformatics and Molecular Evolution Laboratories at NUI Maynooth. He was one of the founding directors of the Irish Centre for High End Computing, an Associate Editor of Molecular Biology and Evolution, Biology Direct, and Journal of Experimental Zoology, and is currently serving as the Secretary for the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.

You can reach James at

Juliette de Meaux is interested in the molecular basis of Darwinian adaptation in natural plant systems. Her works combines the approaches of population, quantitative and molecular genetics to dissect the underpinning of adaptive changes. She completed her PhD at AgroParisTech, under the supervision of Prof. Claire Neema and studied the molecular basis of host-pathogen coevolution in natural populations of common bean. She then spent her Postdoc time in the lab of Prof. Tom Mitchell-Olds at the Max Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology in Jena and worked on the evolution of cis-regulatory DNA. Since 2005, she runs her own lab, first at the Max Planck Institute of Plant Breeding in Cologne and then at the University of Münster. In January 2015, she relocated her lab at the University of Cologne. She is currently serving as the Treasurer for the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.

You can reach Juliette at


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The Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution is an international organization whose goals are to provide facilities for association and communication among molecular evolutionists and to further the goals of molecular evolution, as well as its practitioners and teachers. In order to accomplish these goals, the Society publishes two peer-reviewed journals, Molecular Biology and Evolution and Genome Biology and Evolution. The Society sponsors an annual meeting, as well as smaller satellite meetings or workshop on important, focused, and timely topics. It also confers honors and awards to students and researchers.

SMBE 2018

It is our pleasure to invite you to attend SMBE 2018 - the annual meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution. SMBE 2018 will be held from the 8th to the 12th of July in Yokohama, Japan. SMBE 2018 at Yokohama is to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the landmark paper by Kimura (1968) who proposed the neutral theory of molecular evolution. The meeting - including plenary talks, symposia presentations, the Walter Fitch symposium, and poster sessions - will showcase the latest research in genomics, population genetics, and molecular biology and evolution. 

More information can be found HERE


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Featured News and Updates

SMBE 2015 Vienna Registration Now Open

The deadline for submission of requests for oral presentations, and submission of abstracts for them, for the 2015 annual meeting of the SMBE has been extended to the 15th of February. This extension does not extend the deadlines for nominations for any of the SMBE awards.

Registration is now open for the SMBE 2015 annual meeting, taking place in Vienna July 12th-16th  2015! 

Early bird registrants will benefit from up to a 30% reduced registration fee and full consideration of submitted abstracts (early bird registration closes March 1, 2015). 

Rates and additional information can be found here.

You will be required to set up a new account for meeting registration. Please do not use your login info to log on to the University of Vienna’s registration page. 

 Meeting highlights include: 

·        Posters on display throughout the meeting.  

·        26 symposia on cutting edge topics suggested by SMBE members and one Open Symposium for    
   which  5 featured speakers will be selected through the Local Organizing Committee (LOC).  

·        Plenary speakers: Doris Bachtrog (UC Berkeley), Joe Felsenstein (Univ. of Washington),
   Johanna Schmitt (UC Davis), Diethard Tautz (MPI for Evol. Biol.)  

·        Heavily subsidized child care 

·        Travel and accommodation 

·        Participants benefit from  flight discounts  and affordable accommodation  

·        (starting from € 19,- / night. Double rooms starting from € 60,- / night incl. breakfast) 

Please note that you will be asked for your SMBE member number during the registration process in order to receive your member rates. Failure to provide a valid membership number may ultimately result in cancellation of the registration with the corresponding cancellation fees.   It will only be required for that purpose. 

*Your member number can be found in the registration email you were previously sent. 

*You can also find this number by looking yourself up in the Member Directory.  While logged in, just enter your last name, and then click on your name in the results. Your member number will be listed directly above your name. 

Additionally, the award application submission system is open on the SMBE website.  The deadline has passed for submitting applications for the Walter M. Fitch Awards & the Young Investigator Travel Awards.
However, you still have time to apply for The Undergraduate Travel Awards and SMBE Childcare Travel Awards which have application deadlines of February 16.  You must be logged in a member to access the award application process.  Please contact the SMBE Association Manager, Christopher Lapine at if you have any questions regarding the award application process. 

Join us now on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with meeting news and to connect to colleagues and delegates.

We hope to see you all in Vienna! 

  • Thursday, December 11, 2014
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Genome Biology & Evolution

Insights into an Extensively Fragmented Eukaryotic Genome: De Novo Genome Sequencing of the Multinuclear Ciliate Uroleptopsis citrina

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Ciliated protists are a large group of single-celled eukaryotes with separate germline and somatic nuclei in each cell. The somatic genome is developed from the zygotic nucleus through a series of chromosomal rearrangements, including fragmentation, DNA elimination, de novo telomere addition, and DNA amplification. This unique feature makes them perfect models for research in genome biology and evolution. However, genomic research of ciliates has been limited to a few species, owing to problems with DNA contamination and obstacles in cultivation. Here, we introduce a method combining telomere-primer PCR amplification and high-throughput sequencing, which can reduce DNA contamination and obtain genomic data efficiently. Based on this method, we report a draft somatic genome of a multimacronuclear ciliate, Uroleptopsis citrina. 1) The telomeric sequence in U. citrina is confirmed to be C4A4C4A4C4 by directly blunt-end cloning. 2) Genomic analysis of the resulting chromosomes shows a “one-gene one-chromosome” pattern, with a small number of multiple-gene chromosomes. 3) Amino acid usage is analyzed, and reassignment of stop codons is confirmed. 4) Chromosomal analysis shows an obvious asymmetrical GC skew and high bias between A and T in the subtelomeric regions of the sense-strand, with the detection of an 11-bp high AT motif region in the 3′ subtelomeric region. 5) The subtelomeric sequence also has an obvious 40 nt strand oscillation of nucleotide ratio. 6) In the 5′ subtelomeric region of the coding strand, the distribution of potential TATA-box regions is illustrated, which accumulate between 30 and 50 nt. This work provides a valuable reference for genomic research and furthers our understanding of the dynamic nature of unicellular eukaryotic genomes.

Genetic Ancestry of Hadza and Sandawe Peoples Reveals Ancient Population Structure in Africa

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

The Hadza and Sandawe populations in present-day Tanzania speak languages containing click sounds and therefore thought to be distantly related to southern African Khoisan languages. We analyzed genome-wide genotype data for individuals sampled from the Hadza and Sandawe populations in the context of a global data set of 3,528 individuals from 163 ethno-linguistic groups. We found that Hadza and Sandawe individuals share ancestry distinct from and most closely related to Omotic ancestry; share Khoisan ancestry with populations such as ≠Khomani, Karretjie, and Ju/’hoansi in southern Africa; share Niger-Congo ancestry with populations such as Yoruba from Nigeria and Luhya from Kenya, consistent with migration associated with the Bantu Expansion; and share Cushitic ancestry with Somali, multiple Ethiopian populations, the Maasai population in Kenya, and the Nama population in Namibia. We detected evidence for low levels of Arabian, Nilo-Saharan, and Pygmy ancestries in a minority of individuals. Our results indicate that west Eurasian ancestry in eastern Africa is more precisely the Arabian parent of Cushitic ancestry. Relative to the Out-of-Africa migrations, Hadza ancestry emerged early whereas Sandawe ancestry emerged late.

Ancient Evolution of Mammarenaviruses: Adaptation via Changes in the L Protein and No Evidence for Host–Virus Codivergence

Tue, 06 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

The Mammarenavirus genus includes several pathogenic species of rodent-borne viruses. Old World (OW) mammarenaviruses infect rodents in the Murinae subfamily and are mainly transmitted in Africa and Asia; New World (NW) mammarenaviruses are found in rodents of the Cricetidae subfamily in the Americas. We applied a selection-informed method to estimate that OW and NW mammarenaviruses diverged less than ∼45,000 years ago (ya). By incorporating phylogeographic inference, we show that NW mammarenaviruses emerged in the Latin America-Caribbean region ∼41,400–3,300 ya, whereas OW mammarenaviruses originated ∼23,100–1,880 ya, most likely in Southern Africa. Cophylogenetic analysis indicated that cospeciation did not contribute significantly to mammarenavirus–host associations. Finally, we show that extremely strong selective pressure on the viral polymerase accompanied the speciation of NW viruses. These data suggest that the evolutionary history of mammarenaviruses was not driven by codivergence with their hosts. The viral polymerase should be regarded as a major determinant of mammarenavirus adaptation.

Comparative Serum Challenges Show Divergent Patterns of Gene Expression and Open Chromatin in Human and Chimpanzee

Mon, 05 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Humans experience higher rates of age-associated diseases than our closest living evolutionary relatives, chimpanzees. Environmental factors can explain many of these increases in disease risk, but species-specific genetic changes can also play a role. Alleles that confer increased disease susceptibility later in life can persist in a population in the absence of selective pressure if those changes confer positive adaptation early in life. One age-associated disease that disproportionately affects humans compared with chimpanzees is epithelial cancer. Here, we explored genetic differences between humans and chimpanzees in a well-defined experimental assay that mimics gene expression changes that happen during cancer progression: A fibroblast serum challenge. We used this assay with fibroblasts isolated from humans and chimpanzees to explore species-specific differences in gene expression and chromatin state with RNA-Seq and DNase-Seq. Our data reveal that human fibroblasts increase expression of genes associated with wound healing and cancer pathways; in contrast, chimpanzee gene expression changes are not concentrated around particular functional categories. Chromatin accessibility dramatically increases in human fibroblasts, yet decreases in chimpanzee cells during the serum response. Many regions of opening and closing chromatin are in close proximity to genes encoding transcription factors or genes involved in wound healing processes, further supporting the link between changes in activity of regulatory elements and changes in gene expression. Together, these expression and open chromatin data show that humans and chimpanzees have dramatically different responses to the same physiological stressor, and how a core physiological process can evolve quickly over relatively short evolutionary time scales.

Glutamine Codon Usage and polyQ Evolution in Primates Depend on the Q Stretch Length

Thu, 01 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Amino acid usage in a proteome depends mostly on its taxonomy, as it does the codon usage in transcriptomes. Here, we explore the level of variation in the codon usage of a specific amino acid, glutamine, in relation to the number of consecutive glutamine residues. We show that CAG triplets are consistently more abundant in short glutamine homorepeats (polyQ, four to eight residues) than in shorter glutamine stretches (one to three residues), leading to the evolutionary growth of the repeat region in a CAG-dependent manner. The length of orthologous polyQ regions is mostly stable in primates, particularly the short ones. Interestingly, given a short polyQ the CAG usage is higher in unstable-in-length orthologous polyQ regions. This indicates that CAG triplets produce the necessary instability for a glutamine stretch to grow. Proteins related to polyQ-associated diseases behave in a more extreme way, with longer glutamine stretches in human and evolutionarily closer nonhuman primates, and an overall higher CAG usage. In the light of our results, we suggest an evolutionary model to explain the glutamine codon usage in polyQ regions.

Homologous Recombination between Genetically Divergent Campylobacter fetus Lineages Supports Host-Associated Speciation

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Homologous recombination is a major driver of bacterial speciation. Genetic divergence and host association are important factors influencing homologous recombination. Here, we study these factors for Campylobacter fetus, which shows a distinct intraspecific host dichotomy. Campylobacter fetus subspecies fetus (Cff) and venerealis are associated with mammals, whereas C. fetus subsp. testudinum (Cft) is associated with reptiles. Recombination between these genetically divergent C. fetus lineages is extremely rare. Previously it was impossible to show whether this barrier to recombination was determined by the differential host preferences, by the genetic divergence between both lineages or by other factors influencing recombination, such as restriction-modification, CRISPR/Cas, and transformation systems. Fortuitously, a distinct C. fetus lineage (ST69) was found, which was highly related to mammal-associated C. fetus, yet isolated from a chelonian. The whole genome sequences of two C. fetus ST69 isolates were compared with those of mammal- and reptile-associated C. fetus strains for phylogenetic and recombination analysis. In total, 5.1–5.5% of the core genome of both ST69 isolates showed signs of recombination. Of the predicted recombination regions, 80.4% were most closely related to Cft, 14.3% to Cff, and 5.6% to C. iguaniorum. Recombination from C. fetus ST69 to Cft was also detected, but to a lesser extent and only in chelonian-associated Cft strains. This study shows that despite substantial genetic divergence no absolute barrier to homologous recombination exists between two distinct C. fetus lineages when occurring in the same host type, which provides valuable insights in bacterial speciation and evolution.

Influence of Effective Population Size on Genes under Varying Levels of Selection Pressure

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

The ratio of diversities at amino acid changing (nonsynonymous) and neutral (synonymous) sites (ω = πN/πS) is routinely used to measure the intensity of selection pressure. It is well known that this ratio is influenced by the effective population size (Ne) and selection coefficient (s). Here, we examined the effects of effective population size on ω by comparing protein-coding genes from Mus musculus castaneus and Mus musculus musculus—two mouse subspecies with different Ne. Our results revealed a positive relationship between the magnitude of selection intensity and the ω estimated for genes. For genes under high selective constraints, the ω estimated for the subspecies with small Ne (M. m. musculus) was three times higher than that observed for that with large Ne (M. m. castaneus). However, this difference was only 18% for genes under relaxed selective constraints. We showed that the observed relationship is qualitatively similar to the theoretical predictions. We also showed that, for highly expressed genes, the ω of M. m. musculus was 2.1 times higher than that of M.m. castaneus and this difference was only 27% for genes with low expression levels. These results suggest that the effect of effective population size is more pronounced in genes under high purifying selection. Hence the choice of genes is important when ω is used to infer the effective size of a population.

Modeling Interactions between Transposable Elements and the Plant Epigenetic Response: A Surprising Reliance on Element Retention

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Transposable elements (TEs) compose the majority of angiosperm DNA. Plants counteract TE activity by silencing them epigenetically. One form of epigenetic silencing requires 21–22 nt small interfering RNAs that act to degrade TE mRNA and may also trigger DNA methylation. DNA methylation is reinforced by a second mechanism, the RNA-dependent DNA methylation (RdDM) pathway. RdDM relies on 24 nt small interfering RNAs and ultimately establishes TEs in a quiescent state. These host factors interact at a systems level, but there have been no system level analyses of their interactions. Here, we define a deterministic model that represents the propagation of active TEs, aspects of the host response and the accumulation of silenced TEs. We describe general properties of the model and also fit it to biological data in order to explore two questions. The first is why two overlapping pathways are maintained, given that both are likely energetically expensive. Under our model, RdDM silenced TEs effectively even when the initiation of silencing was weak. This relationship implies that only a small amount of RNAi is needed to initiate TE silencing, but reinforcement by RdDM is necessary to efficiently counter TE propagation. Second, we investigated the reliance of the host response on rates of TE deletion. The model predicted that low levels of deletion lead to few active TEs, suggesting that silencing is most efficient when methylated TEs are retained in the genome, thereby providing one explanation for the large size of plant genomes.

Divergent Evolutionary Trajectories of Two Young, Homomorphic, and Closely Related Sex Chromosome Systems

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

There exists extraordinary variation among species in the degree and nature of sex chromosome divergence. However, much of our knowledge about sex chromosomes is based on comparisons between deeply diverged species with different ancestral sex chromosomes, making it difficult to establish how fast and why sex chromosomes acquire variable levels of divergence. To address this problem, we studied sex chromosome evolution in two species of African clawed frog (Xenopus), both of whom acquired novel systems for sex determination from a recent common ancestor, and both of whom have female (ZW/ZZ) heterogamy. Derived sex chromosomes of one species, X. laevis, have a small region of suppressed recombination that surrounds the sex determining locus, and have remained this way for millions of years. In the other species, X. borealis, a younger sex chromosome system exists on a different pair of chromosomes, but the region of suppressed recombination surrounding an unidentified sex determining gene is vast, spanning almost half of the sex chromosomes. Differences between these sex chromosome systems are also apparent in the extent of nucleotide divergence between the sex chromosomes carried by females. Our analyses also indicate that in autosomes of both of these species, recombination during oogenesis occurs more frequently and in different genomic locations than during spermatogenesis. These results demonstrate that new sex chromosomes can assume radically different evolutionary trajectories, with far-reaching genomic consequences. They also suggest that in some instances the origin of new triggers for sex determination may be coupled with rapid evolution sex chromosomes, including recombination suppression of large genomic regions.

Convergent Amino Acid Signatures in Polyphyletic Campylobacter jejuni Subpopulations Suggest Human Niche Tropism

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Human infection with the gastrointestinal pathogen Campylobacter jejuni is dependent upon the opportunity for zoonotic transmission and the ability of strains to colonize the human host. Certain lineages of this diverse organism are more common in human infection but the factors underlying this overrepresentation are not fully understood. We analyzed 601 isolate genomes from agricultural animals and human clinical cases, including isolates from the multihost (ecological generalist) ST-21 and ST-45 clonal complexes (CCs). Combined nucleotide and amino acid sequence analysis identified 12 human-only amino acid KPAX clusters among polyphyletic lineages within the common disease causing CC21 group isolates, with no such clusters among CC45 isolates. Isolate sequence types within human-only CC21 group KPAX clusters have been sampled from other hosts, including poultry, so rather than representing unsampled reservoir hosts, the increase in relative frequency in human infection potentially reflects a genetic bottleneck at the point of human infection. Consistent with this, sequence enrichment analysis identified nucleotide variation in genes with putative functions related to human colonization and pathogenesis, in human-only clusters. Furthermore, the tight clustering and polyphyly of human-only lineage clusters within a single CC suggest the repeated evolution of human association through acquisition of genetic elements within this complex. Taken together, combined nucleotide and amino acid analysis of large isolate collections may provide clues about human niche tropism and the nature of the forces that promote the emergence of clinically important C. jejuni lineages.

Culture-Facilitated Comparative Genomics of the Facultative Symbiont Hamiltonella defensa

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Many insects host facultative, bacterial symbionts that confer conditional fitness benefits to their hosts. Hamiltonella defensa is a common facultative symbiont of aphids that provides protection against parasitoid wasps. Protection levels vary among strains of H. defensa that are also differentially infected by bacteriophages named APSEs. However, little is known about trait variation among strains because only one isolate has been fully sequenced. Generating complete genomes for facultative symbionts is hindered by relatively large genome sizes but low abundances in hosts like aphids that are very small. Here, we took advantage of methods for culturing H. defensa outside of aphids to generate complete genomes and transcriptome data for four strains of H. defensa from the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum. Chosen strains also spanned the breadth of the H. defensa phylogeny and differed in strength of protection conferred against parasitoids. Results indicated that strains shared most genes with roles in nutrient acquisition, metabolism, and essential housekeeping functions. In contrast, the inventory of mobile genetic elements varied substantially, which generated strain specific differences in gene content and genome architecture. In some cases, specific traits correlated with differences in protection against parasitoids, but in others high variation between strains obscured identification of traits with likely roles in defense. Transcriptome data generated continuous distributions to genome assemblies with some genes that were highly expressed and others that were not. Single molecule real-time sequencing further identified differences in DNA methylation patterns and restriction modification systems that provide defense against phage infection.

Parent-of-Origin-Dependent Gene Expression in Male and Female Schistosome Parasites

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Schistosomes are the causative agents of schistosomiasis, a neglected tropical disease affecting over 230 million people worldwide. Additionally to their major impact on human health, they are also models of choice in evolutionary biology. These parasitic flatworms are unique among the common hermaphroditic trematodes as they have separate sexes. This so-called “evolutionary scandal” displays a female heterogametic genetic sex-determination system (ZZ males and ZW females), as well as a pronounced adult sexual dimorphism. These phenotypic differences are determined by a shared set of genes in both sexes, potentially leading to intralocus sexual conflicts. To resolve these conflicts in sexually selected traits, molecular mechanisms such as sex-biased gene expression could occur, but parent-of-origin gene expression also provides an alternative. In this work we investigated the latter mechanism, that is, genes expressed preferentially from either the maternal or the paternal allele, in Schistosoma mansoni species. To this end, transcriptomes from male and female hybrid adults obtained by strain crosses were sequenced. Strain-specific single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers allowed us to discriminate the parental origin, while reciprocal crosses helped to differentiate parental expression from strain-specific expression. We identified genes containing SNPs expressed in a parent-of-origin manner consistent with paternal and maternal imprints. Although the majority of the SNPs was identified in mitochondrial and Z-specific loci, the remaining SNPs found in male and female transcriptomes were situated in genes that have the potential to explain sexual differences in schistosome parasites. Furthermore, we identified and validated four new Z-specific scaffolds.

Genomic Architecture of the Two Cold-Adapted Genera Exiguobacterium and Psychrobacter: Evidence of Functional Reduction in the Exiguobacterium antarcticum B7 Genome

Thu, 08 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Exiguobacterium and Psychrobacter are bacterial genera with several cold-adapted species. These extremophiles are commonly isolated from the same habitats in Earth’s cryosphere and have great ecological and biotechnological relevance. Thus, through comparative genomic analyses, it was possible to understand the functional diversity of these psychrotrophic and psychrophilic species and present new insights into the microbial adaptation to cold. The nucleotide identity between Exiguobacterium genomes was >90%. Three genomic islands were identified in the E. antarcticum B7 genome. These islands contained genes involved in flagella biosynthesis and chemotaxis, as well as enzymes for carotenoid biosynthesis. Clustering of cold shock proteins by Ka/Ks ratio suggests the occurrence of a positive selection over these genes. Neighbor-joining clustering of complete genomes showed that the E. sibiricum was the most closely related to E. antarcticum. A total of 92 genes were shared between Exiguobacterium and Psychrobacter. A reduction in the genomic content of E. antarcticum B7 was observed. It presented the smallest genome size of its genus and a lower number of genes because of the loss of many gene families compared with the other genomes. In our study, eight genomes of Exiguobacterium and Psychrobacter were compared and analysed. Psychrobacter showed higher genomic plasticity and E. antarcticum B7 presented a large decrease in genomic content without changing its ability to grow in cold environments.

The DNA Methylation Landscape of Stickleback Reveals Patterns of Sex Chromosome Evolution and Effects of Environmental Salinity

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation are a key component of dosage compensation on sex chromosomes and have been proposed as an important source of phenotypic variation influencing plasticity and adaptive evolutionary processes, yet little is known about the role of DNA methylation in an ecological or evolutionary context in vertebrates. The threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) is an ecological and evolutionary model system that has been used to study mechanisms involved in the evolution of adaptive phenotypes in novel environments as well as the evolution heteromorphic sex chromosomes and dosage compensation in vertebrates. Using whole genome bisulfite sequencing, we compared genome-wide DNA methylation patterns between threespine stickleback males and females and between stickleback reared at different environmental salinities. Apparent hypermethylation of the younger evolutionary stratum of the stickleback X chromosome in females relative to males suggests a potential role of DNA methylation in the evolution of heteromorphic sex chromosomes. We also demonstrate that rearing salinity has genome-wide effects on DNA methylation levels, which has the potential to lead to the accumulation of epigenetic variation between natural populations in different environments.

Microbial Dark Matter Investigations: How Microbial Studies Transform Biological Knowledge and Empirically Sketch a Logic of Scientific Discovery

Mon, 05 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Microbes are the oldest and most widespread, phylogenetically and metabolically diverse life forms on Earth. However, they have been discovered only 334 years ago, and their diversity started to become seriously investigated even later. For these reasons, microbial studies that unveil novel microbial lineages and processes affecting or involving microbes deeply (and repeatedly) transform knowledge in biology. Considering the quantitative prevalence of taxonomically and functionally unassigned sequences in environmental genomics data sets, and that of uncultured microbes on the planet, we propose that unraveling the microbial dark matter should be identified as a central priority for biologists. Based on former empirical findings of microbial studies, we sketch a logic of discovery with the potential to further highlight the microbial unknowns.

An Unbiased Genome-Wide View of the Mutation Rate and Spectrum of the Endosymbiotic Bacterium Teredinibacter turnerae

Sat, 03 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Mutations contribute to genetic variation in all living systems. Thus, precise estimates of mutation rates and spectra across a diversity of organisms are required for a full comprehension of evolution. Here, a mutation-accumulation (MA) assay was carried out on the endosymbiotic bacterium Teredinibacter turnerae. After ∼3,025 generations, base-pair substitutions (BPSs) and insertion–deletion (indel) events were characterized by whole-genome sequencing analysis of 47 independent MA lines, yielding a BPS rate of 1.14 × 10−9 per site per generation and indel rate of 1.55 × 10−10 events per site per generation, which are among the highest within free-living and facultative intracellular bacteria. As in other endosymbionts, a significant bias of BPSs toward A/T and an excess of deletion mutations over insertion mutations are observed for these MA lines. However, even with a deletion bias, the genome remains relatively large (∼5.2 Mb) for an endosymbiotic bacterium. The estimate of the effective population size (Ne) in T. turnerae is quite high and comparable to free-living bacteria (∼4.5 × 107), suggesting that the heavy bottlenecking associated with many endosymbiotic relationships is not prevalent during the life of this endosymbiont. The efficiency of selection scales with increasing Ne and such strong selection may have been operating against the deletion bias, preventing genome erosion. The observed mutation rate in this endosymbiont is of the same order of magnitude of those with similar Ne, consistent with the idea that population size is a primary determinant of mutation-rate evolution within endosymbionts, and that not all endosymbionts have low Ne.

Intragenomic Conflict and Immune Tolerance: Do Selfish X-Linked Alleles Drive Skewed X Chromosome Inactivation?

Mon, 30 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMT

In mammalian females, diploid somatic cells contain two X chromosomes, one of which is transcriptionally silenced, in a process termed X chromosome inactivation (XCI). Whereas XCI is largely random in placental females, many women exhibit skewed XCI (SXCI), in which the vast majority cells have the same X chromosome inactivated. SXCI has serious health consequences, associated with conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s to various autoimmune disorders. SXCI is also associated with outcomes of pregnancies, with higher rates of recurrent spontaneous abortion in women with SXCI. Here, I suggest that SXCI could be driven by selfish X-linked alleles. Consistent with the association of SXCI with autoimmunity, I first note the possibility that recurrent spontaneous abortion could reflect immune rejection of fetuses inheriting alleles from the largely silenced maternal X chromosome. Preferential abortion of fetuses carrying silenced X-linked alleles implies a transmission advantage for X-linked alleles on the largely expressed chromosome, which could drive the emergence of X-linked alleles that make the chromosome resistant to XCI. I discuss the evolutionary dynamics, fitness tradeoffs and implications of this hypothesis, and suggest future directions.