RNA regulators are emerging as powerful tools to engineer synthetic genetic networks or rewire existing ones. A potential strength of RNA networks is that they may be able to propagate signals on time scales that are set by the fast degradation rates of RNAs. However, a current bottleneck to verifying this potential is the slow design-build-test cycle of evaluating these networks in vivo. Here, we adapt an Escherichia coli-based cell-free transcription-translation (TX-TL) system for rapidly prototyping RNA networks. We used this system to measure the response time of an RNA transcription cascade to be approximately five minutes per step of the cascade. We also show that this response time can be adjusted with temperature and regulator threshold tuning. Finally, we use TX-TL to prototype a new RNA network, an RNA single input module, and show that this network temporally stages the expression of two genes in vivo.

Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) is a powerful single-cell technique for studying nuclear structure and organization. Here we report two advances in FISH-based imaging. We first describe the in situ visualization of single-copy regions of the genome using two single-molecule super-resolution methodologies. We then introduce a robust and reliable system that harnesses single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to visually distinguish the maternal and paternal homologous chromosomes in mammalian and insect systems. Both of these new technologies are enabled by renewable, bioinformatically designed, oligonucleotide-based Oligopaint probes, which we augment with a strategy that uses secondary oligonucleotides (oligos) to produce and enhance fluorescent signals. These advances should substantially expand the capability to query parent-of-origin-specific chromosome positioning and gene expression on a cell-by-cell basis., The spatial organization of the genome within the nucleus impacts many processes. Here the authors combine oligo-based DNA FISH with single-molecule super-resolution microscopy to image single-copy genomic regions and, taking advantage of SNPs, distinguish allelic regions of homologous chromosomes.

Gaining a genomic perspective on phylogeny requires the collection of data from many putatively independent loci across the genome. Among insects, an increasingly common approach to collecting this class of data involves transcriptome sequencing, because few insects have high-quality genome sequences available; assembling new genomes remains a limiting factor; the transcribed portion of the genome is a reasonable, reduced subset of the genome to target; and the data collected from transcribed portions of the genome are similar in composition to the types of data with which biologists have traditionally worked (e.g. exons). However, molecular techniques requiring RNA as a template, including transcriptome sequencing, are limited to using very high-quality source materials, which are often unavailable from a large proportion of biologically important insect samples. Recent research suggests that DNA-based target enrichment of conserved genomic elements offers another path to collecting phylogenomic data across insect taxa, provided that conserved elements are present in and can be collected from insect genomes. Here, we identify a large set (n = 1510) of ultraconserved elements (UCEs) shared among the insect order Hymenoptera. We used in silico analyses to show that these loci accurately reconstruct relationships among genome-enabled hymenoptera, and we designed a set of RNA baits (n = 2749) for enriching these loci that researchers can use with DNA templates extracted from a variety of sources. We used our UCE bait set to enrich an average of 721 UCE loci from 30 hymenopteran taxa, and we used these UCE loci to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships spanning very old (≥220 Ma) to very young (≤1 Ma) divergences among hymenopteran lineages. In contrast to a recent study addressing hymenopteran phylogeny using transcriptome data, we found ants to be sister to all remaining aculeate lineages with complete support, although this result could be explained by factors such as taxon sampling. We discuss this approach and our results in the context of elucidating the evolutionary history of one of the most diverse and speciose animal orders.

The North American carnivorous pitcher plant genus Sarracenia (Sarraceniaceae) is a relatively young clade (<3 million years ago) displaying a wide range of morphological diversity in complex trapping structures. This recently radiated group is a promising system to examine the structural evolution and diversification of carnivorous plants; however, little is known regarding evolutionary relationships within the genus. Previous attempts at resolving the phylogeny have been unsuccessful, most likely due to few parsimony-informative sites compounded by incomplete lineage sorting. Here, we applied a target enrichment approach using multiple accessions to assess the relationships of Sarracenia species. This resulted in 199 nuclear genes from 75 accessions covering the putative 8–11 species and 8 subspecies/varieties. In addition, we recovered 42 kb of plastome sequence from each accession to estimate a cpDNA-derived phylogeny. Unsurprisingly, the cpDNA had few parsimony-informative sites (0.5%) and provided little information on species relationships. In contrast, use of the targeted nuclear loci in concatenation and coalescent frameworks elucidated many relationships within Sarracenia even with high heterogeneity among gene trees. Results were largely consistent for both concatenation and coalescent approaches. The only major disagreement was with the placement of the purpurea complex. Moreover, results suggest an Appalachian massif biogeographic origin of the genus. Overall, this study highlights the utility of target enrichment using multiple accessions to resolve relationships in recently radiated taxa.

Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) RNA-guided nucleases have gathered considerable excitement as a tool for genome engineering. However, questions remain about the specificity of target site recognition. Cleavage specificity is typically evaluated by low throughput assays (T7 endonuclease I assay, target amplification followed by high-throughput sequencing), which are limited to a subset of potential off-target sites. Here, we used ChIP-seq to examine genome-wide CRISPR binding specificity at gRNA-specific and gRNA-independent sites for two guide RNAs. RNA-guided Cas9 binding was highly specific to the target site while off-target binding occurred at much lower intensities. Cas9-bound regions were highly enriched in NGG sites, a sequence required for target site recognition by Streptococcus pyogenes Cas9. To determine the relationship between Cas9 binding and endonuclease activity, we applied targeted sequence capture, which allowed us to survey 1200 genomic loci simultaneously including potential off-target sites identified by ChIP-seq and by computational prediction. A high frequency of indels was observed at both target sites and one off-target site, while no cleavage activity could be detected at other ChIP-bound regions. Our results confirm the high-specificity of CRISPR endonucleases and demonstrate that sequence capture can be used as a high-throughput genome-wide approach to identify off-target activity.

Between 1500 and 1850, more than 12 million enslaved Africans were transported to the New World. The vast majority were shipped from West and West-Central Africa, but their precise origins are largely unknown. We used genome-wide ancient DNA analyses to investigate the genetic origins of three enslaved Africans whose remains were recovered on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin. We trace their origins to distinct subcontinental source populations within Africa, including Bantu-speaking groups from northern Cameroon and non-Bantu speakers living in present-day Nigeria and Ghana. To our knowledge, these findings provide the first direct evidence for the ethnic origins of enslaved Africans, at a time for which historical records are scarce, and demonstrate that genomic data provide another type of record that can shed new light on long-standing historical questions.

Sequence capture and restriction site associated DNA sequencing (RADseq) are popular methods for obtaining large numbers of loci for phylogenetic analysis. These methods are typically used to collect data at different evolutionary timescales; sequence capture is primarily used for obtaining conserved loci, whereas RADseq is designed for discovering single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) suitable for population genetic or phylogeographic analyses. Phylogenetic questions that span both “recent” and “deep” timescales could benefit from either type of data, but studies that directly compare the two approaches are lacking. We compared phylogenies estimated from sequence capture and double digest RADseq (ddRADseq) data for North American phrynosomatid lizards, a species-rich and diverse group containing nine genera that began diversifying approximately 55 Ma. Sequence capture resulted in 584 loci that provided a consistent and strong phylogeny using concatenation and species tree inference. However, the phylogeny estimated from the ddRADseq data was sensitive to the bioinformatics steps used for determining homology, detecting paralogs, and filtering missing data. The topological conflicts among the SNP trees were not restricted to any particular timescale, but instead were associated with short internal branches. Species tree analysis of the largest SNP assembly, which also included the most missing data, supported a topology that matched the sequence capture tree. This preferred phylogeny provides strong support for the paraphyly of the earless lizard genera Holbrookia and Cophosaurus, suggesting that the earless morphology either evolved twice or evolved once and was subsequently lost in Callisaurus.

Humans first arrived on Madagascar only a few thousand years ago. Subsequent habitat destruction and hunting activities have had significant impacts on the island’s biodiversity, including the extinction of megafauna. For example, we know of 17 recently extinct ‘subfossil’ lemur species, all of which were substantially larger (body mass ∼11–160 kg) than any living population of the ∼100 extant lemur species (largest body mass ∼6.8 kg). We used ancient DNA and genomic methods to study subfossil lemur extinction biology and update our understanding of extant lemur conservation risk factors by i) reconstructing a comprehensive phylogeny of extinct and extant lemurs, and ii) testing whether low genetic diversity is associated with body size and extinction risk. We recovered complete or near-complete mitochondrial genomes from five subfossil lemur taxa, and generated sequence data from population samples of two extinct and eight extant lemur species. Phylogenetic comparisons resolved prior taxonomic uncertainties and confirmed that the extinct subfossil species did not comprise a single clade. Genetic diversity estimates for the two sampled extinct species were relatively low, suggesting small historical population sizes. Low genetic diversity and small population sizes are both risk factors that would have rendered giant lemurs especially susceptible to extinction. Surprisingly, among the extant lemurs, we did not observe a relationship between body size and genetic diversity. The decoupling of these variables suggests that risk factors other than body size may have as much or more meaning for establishing future lemur conservation priorities.

Molecular analyses of turtle relationships have overturned prevailing morphological hypotheses and prompted the development of a new taxonomy. Here we provide the first genome-scale analysis of turtle phylogeny. We sequenced 2381 ultraconserved element (UCE) loci representing a total of 1,718,154 bp of aligned sequence. Our sampling includes 32 turtle taxa representing all 14 recognized turtle families and an additional six outgroups. Maximum likelihood, Bayesian, and species tree methods produce a single resolved phylogeny. This robust phylogeny shows that proposed phylogenetic names correspond to well-supported clades, and this topology is more consistent with the temporal appearance of clades and paleobiogeography. Future studies of turtle phylogeny using fossil turtles should use this topology as a scaffold for their morphological phylogenetic analyses.

Manta and devil rays are an iconic group of globally distributed pelagic filter feeders, yet their evolutionary history remains enigmatic. We employed next generation sequencing of mitogenomes for nine of the 11 recognized species and two outgroups; as well as additional Sanger sequencing of two mitochondrial and two nuclear genes in an extended taxon sampling set. Analysis of the mitogenome coding regions in a Maximum Likelihood and Bayesian framework provided a well-resolved phylogeny. The deepest divergences distinguished three clades with high support, one containing Manta birostris, Manta alfredi, Mobula tarapacana, Mobula japanica and Mobula mobular; one containing Mobula kuhlii, Mobula eregoodootenkee and Mobula thurstoni; and one containing Mobula munkiana, Mobula hypostoma and Mobula rochebrunei. Mobula remains paraphyletic with the inclusion of Manta, a result that is in agreement with previous studies based on molecular and morphological data. A fossil-calibrated Bayesian random local clock analysis suggests that mobulids diverged from Rhinoptera around 30 Mya. Subsequent divergences are characterized by long internodes followed by short bursts of speciation extending from an initial episode of divergence in the Early and Middle Miocene (19–17 Mya) to a second episode during the Pliocene and Pleistocene (3.6 Mya – recent). Estimates of divergence dates overlap significantly with periods of global warming, during which upwelling intensity – and related high primary productivity in upwelling regions – decreased markedly. These periods are hypothesized to have led to fragmentation and isolation of feeding regions leading to possible regional extinctions, as well as the promotion of allopatric speciation. The closely shared evolutionary history of mobulids in combination with ongoing threats from fisheries and climate change effects on upwelling and food supply, reinforces the case for greater protection of this charismatic family of pelagic filter feeders.