The genus Cucurbita (squashes, pumpkins, gourds) contains numerous domesticated lineages with ancient New World origins. It was broadly distributed in the past but has declined to the point that several of the crops’ progenitor species are scarce or unknown in the wild. We hypothesize that Holocene ecological shifts and megafaunal extinctions severely impacted wild Cucurbita, whereas their domestic counterparts adapted to changing conditions via symbiosis with human cultivators. First, we used high-throughput sequencing to analyze complete plastid genomes of 91 total Cucurbita samples, comprising ancient (n = 19), modern wild (n = 30), and modern domestic (n = 42) taxa. This analysis demonstrates independent domestication in eastern North America, evidence of a previously unknown pathway to domestication in northeastern Mexico, and broad archaeological distributions of taxa currently unknown in the wild. Further, sequence similarity between distant wild populations suggests recent fragmentation. Collectively, these results point to wild-type declines coinciding with widespread domestication. Second, we hypothesize that the disappearance of large herbivores struck a critical ecological blow against wild Cucurbita, and we take initial steps to consider this hypothesis through cross-mammal analyses of bitter taste receptor gene repertoires. Directly, megafauna consumed Cucurbita fruits and dispersed their seeds; wild Cucurbita were likely left without mutualistic dispersal partners in the Holocene because they are unpalatable to smaller surviving mammals with more bitter taste receptor genes. Indirectly, megafauna maintained mosaic-like landscapes ideal for Cucurbita, and vegetative changes following the megafaunal extinctions likely crowded out their disturbed-ground niche. Thus, anthropogenic landscapes provided favorable growth habitats and willing dispersal partners in the wake of ecological upheaval.

The spread of farming out of the Balkans and into the rest of Europe followed two distinct routes: An initial expansion represented by the Impressa and Cardial traditions, which followed the Northern Mediterranean coastline; and another expansion represented by the LBK (Linearbandkeramik) tradition, which followed the Danube River into Central Europe. Although genomic data now exist from samples representing the second migration, such data have yet to be successfully generated from the initial Mediterranean migration. To address this, we generated the complete genome of a 7,400-year-old Cardial individual (CB13) from Cova Bonica in Vallirana (Barcelona), as well as partial nuclear data from five others excavated from different sites in Spain and Portugal. CB13 clusters with all previously sequenced early European farmers and modern-day Sardinians. Furthermore, our analyses suggest that both Cardial and LBK peoples derived from a common ancient population located in or around the Balkan Peninsula. The Iberian Cardial genome also carries a discernible hunter–gatherer genetic signature that likely was not acquired by admixture with local Iberian foragers. Our results indicate that retrieving ancient genomes from similarly warm Mediterranean environments such as the Near East is technically feasible.

The formation of allopolyploid cotton precipitated a rapid diversification and colonization of dry coastal American tropical and subtropical regions. Previous phylogenetic analyses, combined with molecular divergence analyses, have offered a temporal framework for this radiation, but provide only weak support for some of the resolved branches. Moreover, these earlier analyses did not include the recently recognized sixth polyploid species, G. ekmanianum Wittmack. Here we use targeted sequence capture of multiple loci in conjunction with both concatenated and Bayesian concordance analyses to reevaluate the phylogeny of allopolyploid cotton species. Although phylogenetic resolution afforded by individual genes is often low, sufficient signal was attained both through the concatenated and concordance analyses to provide robust support for the Gossypium polyploid clade, which is reported here.

Based on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), it has been estimated that at least 15 founder haplogroups peopled the Americas. Subhaplogroup C1d3 was defined based on the mitogenome of a living individual from Uruguay that carried a lineage previously identified in hypervariable region I sequences from ancient and modern Uruguayan individuals. When complete mitogenomes were studied, additional substitutions were found in the coding region of the mitochondrial genome. Using a complete ancient mitogenome and three modern mitogenomes, we aim to clarify the ancestral state of subhaplogroup C1d3 and to better understand the peopling of the region of the Río de la Plata basin, as well as of the builders of the mounds from which the ancient individuals were recovered. The ancient mitogenome, belonging to a female dated to 1,610±46 years before present, was identical to the mitogenome of one of the modern individuals. All individuals share the mutations defining subhaplogroup C1d3. We estimated an age of 8,974 (5,748–12,261) years for the most recent common ancestor of C1d3, in agreement with the initial peopling of the geographic region. No individuals belonging to the defined lineage were found outside of Uruguay, which raises questions regarding the mobility of the prehistoric inhabitants of the country. Moreover, the present study shows the continuity of Native lineages over at least 6,000 years.

A central goal of synthetic biology is to engineer cellular behavior by engineering synthetic gene networks for a variety of biotechnology and medical applications. The process of engineering gene networks often involves an iterative ‘design–build–test’ cycle, whereby the parts and connections that make up the network are built, characterized and varied until the desired network function is reached. Many advances have been made in the design and build portions of this cycle. However, the slow process of in vivo characterization of network function often limits the timescale of the testing step. Cell-free transcription–translation (TX–TL) systems offer a simple and fast alternative to performing these characterizations in cells. Here we provide an overview of a cell-free TX–TL system that utilizes the native Escherichia coli TX–TL machinery, thereby allowing a large repertoire of parts and networks to be characterized. As a way to demonstrate the utility of cell-free TX–TL, we illustrate the characterization of two genetic networks: an RNA transcriptional cascade and a protein regulated incoherent feed-forward loop. We also provide guidelines for designing TX–TL experiments to characterize new genetic networks. We end with a discussion of current and emerging applications of cell free systems.

Targeted Induced Local Lesions in Genomes (TILLING) is a reverse genetics approach to identify novel sequence variation in genomes, with the aims of investigating gene function and/or developing useful alleles for breeding. Despite recent advances in wheat genomics, most current TILLING methods are low to medium in throughput, being based on PCR amplification of the target genes. We performed a pilot-scale evaluation of TILLING in wheat by next-generation sequencing through exon capture. An oligonucleotide-based enrichment array covering ~2 Mbp of wheat coding sequence was used to carry out exon capture and sequencing on three mutagenised lines of wheat containing previously-identified mutations in the TaGA20ox1 homoeologous genes. After testing different mapping algorithms and settings, candidate SNPs were identified by mapping to the IWGSC wheat Chromosome Survey Sequences. Where sequence data for all three homoeologues were found in the reference, mutant calls were unambiguous; however, where the reference lacked one or two of the homoeologues, captured reads from these genes were mis-mapped to other homoeologues, resulting either in dilution of the variant allele frequency or assignment of mutations to the wrong homoeologue. Competitive PCR assays were used to validate the putative SNPs and estimate cut-off levels for SNP filtering. At least 464 high-confidence SNPs were detected across the three mutagenized lines, including the three known alleles in TaGA20ox1, indicating a mutation rate of ~35 SNPs per Mb, similar to that estimated by PCR-based TILLING. This demonstrates the feasibility of using exon capture for genome re-sequencing as a method of mutation detection in polyploid wheat, but accurate mutation calling will require an improved genomic reference with more comprehensive coverage of homoeologues.

Phylogenetic relationships in recent, rapid radiations can be difficult to resolve due to incomplete lineage sorting and reliance on genetic markers that evolve slowly relative to the rate of speciation. By incorporating hundreds to thousands of unlinked loci, phylogenomic analyses have the potential to mitigate these difficulties. Here, we attempt to resolve phylogenetic relationships among eight shrew species (genus Crocidura) from the Philippines, a phylogenetic problem that has proven intractable with small (< 10 loci) data sets. We sequenced hundreds of ultraconserved elements and whole mitochondrial genomes in these species and estimated phylogenies using concatenation, summary coalescent, and hierarchical coalescent methods. The concatenated approach recovered a maximally supported and fully resolved tree. In contrast, the coalescent-based approaches produced similar topologies, but each had several poorly supported nodes. Using simulations, we demonstrate that the concatenated tree could be positively misleading. Our simulations also show that the tree shape we tend to infer, which involves a series of short internal branches, is difficult to resolve, even if substitution models are known and multiple individuals per species are sampled. As such, the low support we obtained for backbone relationships in our coalescent-based inferences reflects a real and appropriate lack of certainty. Our results illuminate the challenges of estimating a bifurcating tree in a rapid and recent radiation, providing a rare empirical example of a nearly simultaneous series of speciation events in a terrestrial animal lineage as it spreads across an oceanic archipelago.

Next-generation sequencing and phylogenomics hold great promise for elucidating complex relationships among large plant families. Here, we performed targeted capture of low copy sequences followed by next-generation sequencing on the Illumina platform in the large and diverse angiosperm family Compositae (Asteraceae). The family is monophyletic, based on morphology and molecular data, yet many areas of the phylogeny have unresolved polytomies and interpreting phylogenetic patterns has been historically difficult. In order to outline a method and provide a framework and for future phylogenetic studies in the Compositae, we sequenced 23 taxa from across the family in which the relationships were well established as well as a member of the sister family Calyceraceae. We generated nuclear data from 795 loci and assembled chloroplast genomes from off-target capture reads enabling the comparison of nuclear and chloroplast genomes for phylogenetic analyses. We also analyzed multi-copy nuclear genes in our data set using a clustering method during orthology detection, and we applied a network approach to these clusters—analyzing all related locus copies. Using these data, we produced hypotheses of phylogenetic relationships employing both a conservative (restricted to only loci with one copy per targeted locus) and a multigene approach (including all copies per targeted locus). The methods and bioinformatics workflow presented here provide a solid foundation for future work aimed at understanding gene family evolution in the Compositae as well as providing a model for phylogenomic analyses in other plant mega-families.

An incomplete carcass of an extinct bison, Bison ex gr. priscus, was discovered in 2012 in the mouth of the Rauchua River (69°30′N, 166°49′E), Chukotka. The carcass included the rump with two hind limbs, ribs, and large flap of hide from the abdomen and sides, several vertebrae, bones of the forelimbs and anterior autopodia, stomach with its contents, and wool. The limb bones are relatively gracile, which is unusual in bison, and a SEM study of the hair microstructure suggests higher insulating capacity than in extant members of the genus. Additionally, mitochondrial DNA analyses indicate that the Rauchua bison belonged to a distinct and previously unidentified lineage of steppe bison. Two radiocarbon dates suggest a Holocene age for the bison: a traditional 14C date provided an estimate of 8030±70 14C yr ВР (SPb-743) and an AMS radiocarbon date provided an age of 9497±92 14C yr BP (AA101271). These dates make this the youngest known bison from Chukotka. Analysis of stomach contents revealed a diet of herbaceous plants (meadow grasses and sedges) and shrubs, suggesting that the early Holocene vegetation near the mouth of the Rauchua River was similar to that of the present day: tundra-associated vegetation with undersized plants.