Since the completion of the human genome project in 2003, extraordinary progress has been made in genome sequencing technologies, which has led to a decreased cost per megabase and an increase in the number and diversity of sequenced genomes. An astonishing complexity of genome architecture has been revealed, bringing these sequencing technologies to even greater advancements. Some approaches maximize the number of bases sequenced in the least amount of time, generating a wealth of data that can be used to understand increasingly complex phenotypes. Alternatively, other approaches now aim to sequence longer contiguous pieces of DNA, which are essential for resolving structurally complex regions. These and other strategies are providing researchers and clinicians a variety of tools to probe genomes in greater depth, leading to an enhanced understanding of how genome sequence variants underlie phenotype and disease.
Gene-based therapy is the intentional modulation of gene expression in specific cells to treat pathological conditions. This modulation is accomplished by introducing exogenous nucleic acids such as DNA, mRNA, small interfering RNA (siRNA), microRNA (miRNA) or antisense oligonucleotides. Given the large size and the negative charge of these macromolecules, their delivery is typically mediated by carriers or vectors. In this Review, we introduce the biological barriers to gene delivery in vivo and discuss recent advances in material sciences, nanotechnology and nucleic acid chemistry that have yielded promising non-viral delivery systems, some of which are currently undergoing testing in clinical trials. The diversity of these systems highlights the recent progress of gene-based therapy using non-viral approaches.
Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are a diverse class of RNAs that engage in numerous biological processes across every branch of life. Although initially discovered as mRNA-like transcripts that do not encode proteins, recent studies have revealed features of lncRNAs that further distinguish them from mRNAs. In this Review, we describe special events in the lifetimes of lncRNAs - before, during and after transcription - and discuss how these events ultimately shape the unique characteristics and functional roles of lncRNAs.
Genomes of multicellular organisms are characterized by the pervasive expression of different types of non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs). Long ncRNAs (lncRNAs) belong to a novel heterogeneous class of ncRNAs that includes thousands of different species. lncRNAs have crucial roles in gene expression control during both developmental and differentiation processes, and the number of lncRNA species increases in genomes of developmentally complex organisms, which highlights the importance of RNA-based levels of control in the evolution of multicellular organisms. In this Review, we describe the function of lncRNAs in developmental processes, such as in dosage compensation, genomic imprinting, cell differentiation and organogenesis, with a particular emphasis on mammalian development.
MicroRNAs (mi-RNAs) are a conserved class of small non-coding RNAs that assemble with Argonaute proteins into miRNA-induced silencing complexes (miRISCs) to direct post-transcriptional silencing of complementary mRNA targets. Silencing is accomplished through a combination of translational repression and mRNA destabilization, with the latter contributing to most of the steady-state repression in animal cell cultures. Degradation of the mRNA target is initiated by deadenylation, which is followed by decapping and 5'-to-3' exonucleolytic decay. Recent work has enhanced our understanding of the mechanisms of silencing, making it possible to describe in molecular terms a continuum of direct interactions from miRNA target recognition to mRNA deadenylation, decapping and 5'-to-3' degradation. Furthermore, an intricate interplay between translational repression and mRNA degradation is emerging.
DNA methylation is frequently described as a 'silencing' epigenetic mark, and indeed this function of 5-methylcytosine was originally proposed in the 1970s. Now, thanks to improved genome-scale mapping of methylation, we can evaluate DNA methylation in different genomic contexts: transcriptional start sites with or without CpG islands, in gene bodies, at regulatory elements and at repeat sequences. The emerging picture is that the function of DNA methylation seems to vary with context, and the relationship between DNA methylation and transcription is more nuanced than we realized at first. Improving our understanding of the functions of DNA methylation is necessary for interpreting changes in this mark that are observed in diseases such as cancer.
DNA methylation is among the best studied epigenetic modifications and is essential to mammalian development. Although the methylation status of most CpG dinucteotides in the genome is stably propagated through mitosis, improvements to methods for measuring methylation have identified numerous regions in which it is dynamically regulated. In this Review, we discuss key concepts in the function of DNA methylation in mammals, stemming from more than two decades of research, including many recent studies that have elucidated when and where DNA methylation has a regulatory role in the genome. We include insights from early development, embryonic stem cells and adult Lineages, particularly haematopoiesis, to highlight the general features of this modification as it participates in both global and localized epigenetic regulation..
The relevance of the non-coding genome to human disease has mainly been studied in the context of the widespread disruption of microRNA (miRNA) expression and function that is seen in human cancer. However, we are only beginning to understand the nature and extent of the involvement of non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) in disease. Other ncRNAs, such as PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs), small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs), transcribed ultraconserved regions (T-UCRs) and large intergenic non-coding RNAs (lincRNAs) are emerging as key elements of cellular homeostasis. Along with microRNAs, dysregulation of these ncRNAs is being found to have relevance not only to tumorigenesis, but also to neurological, cardiovascular, developmental and other diseases. There is great interest in therapeutic strategies to counteract these perturbations of ncRNAs.
Programmable nucleases - including zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) and RNA-guided engineered nucleases (RGENs) derived from the bacterial clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-Cas (CRISPR-associated) system - enable targeted genetic modifications in cultured cells, as well as in whole animals and plants. The value of these enzymes in research, medicine and biotechnology arises from their ability to induce site-specific DNA cleavage in the genome, the repair (through endogenous mechanisms) of which allows high-precision genome editing. However, these nucleases differ in several respects, including their composition, targetable sites, specificities and mutation signatures, among other characteristics. Knowledge of nuclease-specific features, as well as of their pros and cons, is essential for researchers to choose the most appropriate tool for a range of applications.
The field of single-cell genomics is advancing rapidly and is generating many new insights into complex biological systems, ranging from the diversity of microbial ecosystems to the genomics of human cancer. In this Review, we provide an overview of the current state of the field of single-cell genome sequencing. First, we focus on the technical challenges of making measurements that start from a single molecule of DNA, and then explore how some of these recent methodological advancements have enabled the discovery of unexpected new biology. Areas highlighted include the application of single-cell genomics to interrogate microbial dark matter and to evaluate the pathogenic roles of genetic mosaicism in multicellular organisms, with a focus on cancer. We then attempt to predict advances we expect to see in the next few years.
Recent advances in next-generation DNA sequencing and proteomics provide an unprecedented ability to survey mRNA and protein abundances. Such proteome-wide surveys are illuminating the extent to which different aspects of gene expression help to regulate cellular protein abundances. Current data demonstrate a substantial role for regulatory processes occurring after mRNA is made - that is, post-transcriptional, translational and protein degradation regulation - in controlling steady-state protein abundances. Intriguing observations are also emerging in relation to cells following perturbation, single-cell studies and the apparent evolutionary conservation of protein and mRNA abundances. Here, we summarize current understanding of the major factors regulating protein expression.
Over the past 20 years, breakthrough discoveries of chromatin-modifying enzymes and associated mechanisms that alter chromatin in response to physiological or pathological signals have transformed our knowledge of epigenetics from a collection of curious biological phenomena to a functionally dissected research field. Here, we provide a personal perspective on the development of epigenetics, from its historical origins to what we define as 'the modern era of epigenetic research'. We primarily highlight key molecular mechanisms of and conceptual advances in epigenetic control that have changed our understanding of normal and perturbed development.
Discoveries over the past decade portend a paradigm shift in molecular biology. Evidence suggests that RNA is not only functional as a messenger between DNA and protein but also involved in the regulation of genome organization and gene expression, which is increasingly elaborate in complex organisms. Regulatory RNA seems to operate at many levels; in particular, it plays an important part in the epigenetic processes that control differentiation and development. These discoveries suggest a central role for RNA in human evolution and ontogeny. Here, we review the emergence of the previously unsuspected world of regulatory RNA from a historical perspective.
Forward genetic screens are powerful tools for the discovery and functional annotation of genetic elements. Recently, the RNA-guided CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat)-associated Cas9 nuclease has been combined with genome-scale guide RNA libraries for unbiased, phenotypic screening. In this Review, we describe recent advances using Cas9 for genome-scale screens, including knockout approaches that inactivate genomic loci and strategies that modulate transcriptional activity. We discuss practical aspects of screen design, provide comparisons with RNA interference (RNAi) screening, and outline future applications and challenges.
Interest in the role of the microbiome in human health has burgeoned over the past decade with the advent of new technologies for interrogating complex microbial communities. The large- scale dynamics of the microbiome can be described by many of the tools and observations used in the study of population ecology. Deciphering the metagenome and its aggregate genetic information can also be used to understand the functional properties of the microbial community. Both the microbiome and metagenome probably have important functions in health and disease; their exploration is a frontier in human genetics.
RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM) is the major small RNA-mediated epigenetic pathway in plants. RdDM requires a specialized transcriptional machinery that comprises two plant-specific RNA polymerases - Pot IV and Pot V - and a growing number of accessory proteins, the functions of which in the RdDM mechanism are only partially understood. Recent work has revealed variations in the canonical RdDM pathway and identified factors that recruit Pot IV and Pol V to specific target sequences. RdDM, which transcriptionally represses a subset of transposons and genes, is implicated in pathogen defence, stress responses and reproduction, as well as in interallelic and intercellular communication.
Cellular development morphology and function are governed by precise patterns of gene expression. These are established by the coordinated action of genomic regulatory elements known as enhancers or cis-regulatory modules. More than 30 years after the initial discovery of enhancers many of their properties have been elucidated however despite major efforts we only have an incomplete picture of enhancers in animal genomes. In this Review we discuss how properties of enhancer sequences and chromatin are used to predict enhancers in genome wide studies. We also cover recently developed high throughput methods that allow the direct testing and identification of enhancers on the basis of their activity. Finally we discuss recent technological advances and current challenges in the field of regulatory genomics.
The eukaryotic genome is organized in the three-dimensional nuclear space in a specific manner that is both a cause and a consequence of its function. This organization is partly established by a special class of architectural proteins, of which CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF) is the best characterized. Although CTCF has been assigned various roles that are often contradictory, new results now help to draw a unifying model to explain the many functions of this protein. CTCF creates boundaries between topologically associating domains in chromosomes and, within these domains, facilitates interactions between transcription regulatory sequences. Thus, CTCF links the architecture of the genome to its function.
Organisms require an appropriate balance of stability and reversibility in gene expression programmes to maintain cell identity or to enable responses to stimuli; epigenetic regulation is integral to this dynamic control. Post-translational modification of histones by methylation is an important and widespread type of chromatin modification that is known to influence biological processes in the context of development and cellular responses. To evaluate how histone methylation contributes to stable or reversible control, we provide a broad overview of how histone methylation is regulated and leads to biological outcomes. The importance of appropriately maintaining or reprogramming histone methylation is illustrated by its links to disease and ageing and possibly to transmission of traits across generations.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have emerged as key gene regulators in diverse biological pathways. These small non-coding RNAs bind to target sequences in mRNAs, typically resulting in repressed gene expression. Several methods are now available for identifying miRNA target sites, but the mere presence of an miRNA-binding site is insufficient for predicting target regulation. Regulation of targets by miRNAs is subject to various levels of control, and recent developments have presented a new twist; targets can reciprocally control the level and function of miRNAs. This mutual regulation of miRNAs and target genes is challenging our understanding of the gene-regulatory role of miRNAs in vivo and has important implications for the use of these RNAs in therapeutic settings.