Quickscan articles

12 November 2016

#Systems biology
Individuals in a population of cells often show different growth rates, even if all cells are genetically identical and in the same environment. Using a combination of mathematical modeling and experimental work, Bram Cerulus and colleagues from the Kevin Verstrepen lab (VIB-KU Leuven) show that this so-called “noise” in growth rates has a complex and counterintuitive effect on the overall growth rate of the population, with increased differences in growth rates associated with healthier cell populations. The results do not only allow more accurate modeling of growth rates of microbes and tumors; they also shed new light on the costs and benefits of biological noise on the healthiness of cell populations.
Cerulus et al., Curr Biol. 2016

#Gene duplication # Flowering plants
Gene duplication is an important mechanism for increasing genetic novelty. The lab of Yves Van de Peer (VIB-UGent) investigated duplicate gene retention in more than 9,000 gene families shared between 37 flowering plant species. For these gene families, duplicate retention appears to be highly non-random across genomes and duplication events. The investigation found that genes
with functions related to genome integrity and organelles always appear as single copies, and genes that interact with the environment are consistently kept in duplicate.
Li et al., Plant Cell 2016

#CRISPR #domestication
The domestication of wild plants has provided us with crops that meet the needs of humans. Selected traits are often caused by mutations in cis-regulatory elements, which regulate the expression of related genes. These generally result in subtle changes in, for example, the tissue specificity of gene expression, and were unconsciously favored by farmers to avoid pleiotropic effects, which are caused when one gene influences two or more unrelated genes. Learning from domestication, Gwen Swinnen and Laurens Pauwels from the Alain Goossens lab (VIB-UGent) propose genome editing of ciselements as a strategy to improve crops.
Swinnen et al., TIPS 2016

#Diagnostic Biomarker #SYNE1
Recently the lab of Peter De Jonghe (VIB-University of Antwerp) was involved in the expansion of the SYNE1- associated clinical spectrum with identification of mainly truncating recessive SYNE1 mutations causing multisystemic diseases rather than pure cerebellar ataxia. Given the gene size, conserved missense variants can be found in 5.6% of unaffected carriers. Muscle immunohistochemistry provides a valuable diagnostic biomarker for clarifying the pathogenicity of SYNE1 missense variants.
Mademan et al., Brain 2016

#SORL1 #Alzheimer’s disease
The SORL1 gene has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and rare genetic variants of this gene have been singled out as potential causes of early-onset AD (EOAD). In a large European group of 1255 EOAD patients and 1938 control individuals, the Christine Van Broeckhoven lab (VIB-University of Antwerp) found an enrichment of rare SORL1 variants in EOAD patients. Interestingly, a certain type of variant that is predicted to cause abnormally short proteins was only identified in patients. These patients also had more often a family history of AD, further implicating a role for these mutations in development of the disease.
Verheijen, Van den Bossche et al., Acta Neuropathologica 2016

# Redox-sensitive adherence #Gastric cancers
& ulcers Helicobacter pylori is a leading cause of peptic ulcers and gastric cancer. The bacterium adheres blood group antigens, or carbohydrates that cause an immune response, to the lining of the stomach. Kristof Moonens from the Han Remaut lab (VIB-VUB) provides structural and mechanistic insight into the BabA adhesin, which is the adhesive produced by the bacterium. This adhesin comes in many forms in terms of its structure and function, but it relies on a chemical reaction that is vulnerable to N-Acetylcysteine, a redox-active drug.
Moonens et al., Cell Host & Microbe 2016

# Zeb2 #Dendritic cells #Development
Research conducted by VIB and its affiliates has implicated Zeb2, a gene regulating a protein with a critical role in organ and tissue formation, in the development of NK and T cells. NK and T cells are used by the body’s immune system to fight infection. Recently, Charlotte Scott & Bieke Soen from the labs of Bart Lambrecht & Geert Berx (VIB-UGent) have shown that Zeb2 is also critical for the development of dendritic cells (DCs), which help NK and T cells destroy pathogens. The loss of Zeb2 in cells resulted in fewer DCs and a change in the cell division process.
Scott et al., J Exp Med 2016