Focus |

Genetics, genomics and epigenetics

Rebecca Furlong: human genetics and evolutionary genomics. 

Anne Mirabella: genome instability, DNA repair and replication.

Carolina Perdigoto: chromatin, epigenetics and transcription.

Katie Ridd: cancer genomics and cancer epigenomics.

Welcome to the Nature Communications Editors’ Highlights webpage on genomes and epigenomes. Each month our editors select a small number of Articles recently published in Nature Communications that they believe are particularly interesting or important.

The aim is to provide a snapshot of some of the most exciting work published in the area of genomes and epigenomes at Nature Communications.

Make sure to check the Editors' Highlights page each month for new featured articles.

Rebecca Furlong

Human reference genomes are typically constructed from few individuals, and are biased towards European and African genomes. Here, the authors assemble three Japanese genomes to create a population-specific reference genome. They then demonstrate improved variant calling from exome sequencing with this reference genome.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The prevalence of cardiometabolic diseases (CMDs) is increasing rapidly across Africa. Here, the authors investigate autozygosity in CMD-associated traits in over 10,000 sub-Saharan African individuals, showing these traits are influenced by sex-specific inbreeding depression and environmental interactions.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Mendelian randomization is a useful tool to infer causal relationships between traits, but can be confounded by the presence of pleiotropy. Here, the authors have developed MR-link, a Mendelian randomization method which accounts for unobserved pleiotropy and linkage disequilibrium between instrumental variables.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

How Indigenous populations in the southern tip of South America have changed over time has been unclear. Here the authors generate genome-wide data for 20 ancient individuals and examine how past migrations and admixture events correlate to geography and shifts in the archaeological record.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Structural variants (SVs) contribute to the genetic architecture of many brain-related disorders. Here, the authors integrate SV calls from genome sequencing (n = 755) with RNA-seq data (n = 629) from post-mortem dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex to annotate the gene regulatory effects of SVs in the human brain and their potential to contribute to disease.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Horseshoe crabs have been morphologically stable across evolutionary time. Here, the authors generate a chromosome-level assembly for the mangrove horseshoe crab, with implications for innate immunity, and challenging assumptions about the role of genome duplication in adaptive radiation.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

European populations underwent strong genetic changes during the Neolithic. Here, Furtwängler et al. provide ancient nuclear and mitochondrial genomic data from the region of Switzerland during the end of the Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age that reveal a complex genetic turnover during the arrival of steppe ancestry.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Membranous nephropathy (MN) is a rare autoimmune disease of podocyte-directed antibodies, such as anti-phospholipase A2 receptor. Here, the authors report a genome-wide association study for MN and identify two previously unreported loci encompassing the NFKB1 and IRF4 genes and additional ancestry-specific effects.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Anne Mirabella

CTCF mediates DNA–DNA interactions by forming dimers that directly bind to both sides of the DNA. Here the authors reveal that a CTCF known associated zinc finger, ZNF143, mediates gene transcription through CTCF–DNA binding to maintain murine hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell integrity.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The eukaryotic RNA Polymerase III transcribes tRNAs, some ribosomal and spliceosomal RNAs. Here, the authors resolve a cryo-EM structure of human RNA Polymerase III in its apo form and complemented it with crystal structures and SAXS analysis of RPC5, revealing insights into the molecular mechanisms of Pol III transcription.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Mutations in the homologous recombination proteins BRCA1 and BRCA2 can sensitize cells to treatment with inhibitors of poly-ADP-ribose polymerase 1 (PARPi), but resistance to the treatment can occur. Here the authors by genome-wide CRISPR knockout and activation screens reveal novel pathways of PARPi resistance in BRCA2-deficient cells.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The fork protection complex (FPC), including the proteins TIMELESS and TIPIN, stabilizes the replisome to ensure unperturbed fork progression during DNA replication. Here the authors reveal that that SDE2, a PCNA-associated protein, plays an important role in maintaining active replication and protecting stalled forks by regulating the replication fork protection complex (FPC).

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The origin recognition complex (ORC) is essential for loading the Mcm2–7 replicative helicase onto DNA during DNA replication initiation. Here, the authors describe several cryo-electron microscopy structures of Drosophila ORC bound to DNA and its cofactor Cdc6 and also report an in vitro reconstitution system for Drosophila Mcm2–7 loading, revealing unexpected features of ORC’s DNA binding and remodeling mechanism during Mcm2–7 loading.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

DNA damage sensors DDB2 and XPC are fundamental factors to initiate global genome nucleotide excision repair and protect DNA from mutagenesis. Here the authors reveal that ubiquitin and TFIIH-stimulated DDB2 dissociation promotes DNA damage handover to XPC in nucleotide excision repair.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Carolina Perdigoto

Histone acetylation is a ubiquitous hallmark of transcription. Here the authors provide evidence that the majority of histone acetylation is dependent on transcription, specifically due to the requirement of RNAPII for the recruitment and activity of histone acetyltransferases.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Genomes are partitioned into topologically associating domains (TADs). Here the authors present single-nucleus Hi-C maps in Drosophila at 10 kb resolution, demonstrating the presence of chromatin compartments in individual nuclei, and partitioning of the genome into non-hierarchical TADs at the scale of 100 kb, which resembles population TAD profiles.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Dynamic arrangement of epigenetic modifications such as repressive H3K27 methylation is essential for zygote development. Here the authors show that establishment of genome-wide H3K27me3 in zygotes requires EZH2, that EZH1 partially compensates for EZH2 loss, and that EHMT1 is involved in H3K27me2 establishment.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Gram-positive bacteria contain a transcription factor HelD that is able to remove and recycle stalled transcription complexes. Here the authors provide mechanistic insights into this process by determining the cryo-EM structures of the Bacillus subtilis RNA polymerase (RNAP) elongation complex and the RNAP-HelD transcription recycling complex and propose a model of HelD catalysed transcription recycling.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Firre encodes a lncRNA involved in nuclear organization in mammals. Here, the authors find that allelic deletion of Firre on the active X chromosome (Xa) results in dose-dependent loss of histone H3K27me3 on the inactive X chromosome (Xi), along with other trans-acting effects, including disruption of the perinuclear location and minor dysregulation of gene expression.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Senescence is a state of stable proliferative arrest. Here, the authors perform Hi-C analysis on oncogenic RAS-induced senescence in human fibroblasts and characterize the changes in the 3D genome folding associated with the senescence-specific gene expression profile, which are mediated in part through cohesin redistribution on chromatin.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Here the authors show that the preference of yeast chromatin remodeler ISW1a for dinucleosomes hinges on conformational changes that occur in the transition from binding mononucleosomes to dinucleosomes. These changes are critical for ISW1a organizing chromatin at promoters and regulating transcription in conjunction with other chromatin remodelers.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The boundaries of topologically associating domains (TADs) arise from the ability of the CTCF protein to stop extrusion of chromatin loops by cohesin. Here the authors find that CTCF positions cohesin through its N-terminus but does not control its overall binding dynamics on chromatin, and show how the orientation of CTCF binding sites translates into genome folding patterns.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Katie Ridd

The detection of aberrations in circulating tumour DNA represents a non-invasive method to survey the oncogenes and tumour suppressors that are modified within a patient’s cancer. Here, the authors analysed more than 10,000 patients using a targeted sequencing panel and report on the frequencies of the mutations that they found.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Osteosarcomas are difficult to treat and have a limited response to immunotherapy. Here, the authors analyse osteosarcomas at the single-cell level, and identify both the transdifferentiation of malignant cells and an array of immune cells that could have implications for metastasis and immunotherapy.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Predicting cancer risk requires large datasets and sophisticated models. Here the authors integrate polygenic risk scores and modifiable risk factors for multiple cancers in the UK Biobank, improving general risk prediction and distinguishing cases where genetic or lifestyle factors have stronger associations.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Cancers deficient in homologous recombination can benefit from treatment with poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitors. Here, the authors generated a classifier that can predict homologous recombination deficiency from genomic data and suggest several cancer types that may benefit from PARP inhibitor treatment.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The evolutionary progression from primary to metastatic prostate cancer is largely uncharted, and the implications for liquid biopsy are unexplored. Here, the authors use deep genomic sequencing and histopathological information to trace tumor evolution both within the prostate and during metastasis in ten men.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

There are currently only a few biomarkers to predict the response of muscle invasive bladder cancer to therapy. Here, the authors analyse 300 tumors using exome and RNA sequencing and find that tumors with a high degree of genomic instability and a non-basal/squamous gene expression subtype are most likely to respond to treatment.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma may be initiated by acinar metaplasia, but the molecular and cellular insights during this transition are unclear. Here the authors show, using single cell RNA-sequencing analyses, that mouse metaplastic acinar cells can be clustered into six cell types or states that are heterogeneous and have unique transcription programs.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Schizophrenia has been associated with increased risk of breast cancer, yet the risk of schizophrenia following breast cancer is unclear. Here, the authors show a bidirectional association between breast cancer and schizophrenia in Sweden and a shared genetic contribution to both diseases.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications