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Genetics, genomics and epigenetics

The accurate inheritance of phenotypes in all biological systems relies on the transmission of genetic and epigenetic information and failure in these operations often underlie many diseases. In this editorial page we explore exciting discoveries and technologies which push forward our understanding of genome organisation and evolution, rare and complex diseases and the molecular machines orchestrating these processes.

Featured articles

Short-read sequencing methods cannot delineate internal exon composition and alternative splicing events of long and multi-exon circular RNAs (circRNAs). Here the authors provide a global map of full-length circRNAs by long-read sequencing in human and mouse brain samples.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

RNA polyadenosine tails are important for the export, translation and stability of mRNAs and play a role in non-coding RNA biogenesis. Here the authors measure yeast poly(A) tail lengths by direct RNA sequencing, revealing its dynamics in yeast exonuclease, deadenylase and poly(A) polymerase mutants.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Shwachman-Diamond syndrome (SDS) is a leukemia predisposition disorder that is caused by defective release of eIF6 during ribosome assembly. Here the authors show that acquired somatic EIF6 mutations are frequent in the hematopoietic cells from individuals with SDS and provide a selective advantage over non-modified cells.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Mesomelic dysplasia, a severe shortening and bending of the limb, has been linked to rearrangements in the HoxD cluster in humans and mice. Here the authors engineer a 1 Mb inversion including the HoxD gene cluster and use this model to provide a mechanistic framework to understand and unify the molecular origins of human mesomelic dysplasia associated with 2q31.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The transcriptional regulators underlying the induction and differentiation of dense connective tissues remain largely unknown. Here the authors generate tendon and fibrocartilage cells from mouse embryonic stem cells and apply scRNA-seq to identify molecular regulation of the cell fate switch between these lineages.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Few studies have provided functional analysis of the epigenetic landscape in the regenerating liver. Here the authors define chromatin states in the quiescent vs. regenerating mouse liver through integration of genome wide profiles of DNA methylation, histone modifications, and chromatin accessibility, identifying H3K27me3 as an epigenetic mark conferring regenerative potential.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The gene regulatory network controlling the bifurcation of common progenitors into the neural retina and retinal-pigmented epithelium programs remains poorly understood. Here the authors study transcriptome dynamics and chromatin accessibility during this process in zebrafish, revealing network redundancy, as well as context-dependent and sequential transcription factor activity.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The tall wheat grass-derived stem rust resistance genes Sr26 and Sr61 are among a few ones that are effective to all current dominant races of stem rust, including Ug99. Here, the authors show that the two genes are present in a small non-recombinogenic segment but encode two unrelated NLR proteins.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Longhua Shui Mi (LHSM) is a representative of the Chinese Cling peaches that have been central in global peach genetic improvement. Here, the authors assemble the genome of LHSM and show convergent selection for sweetness yet divergent selection for acidity in eastern vs. western cultivars through population genomics analyses.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The evolvability of sociality requires that some variation in social groups is heritable. Experiments on fly social groups find that genotypic differences in network position are largely robust to changes in the environment flies experience, while selection on network position varies across environments.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Penetrance of variants in monogenic disease and clinical utility of common polygenic variation has not been well explored on a large-scale. Here, the authors use exome sequencing data from 77,184 individuals to generate penetrance estimates and assess the utility of polygenic variation in risk prediction of monogenic variants.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Traditional methods to identify genomic regions identical-by-descent (IBD) do not scale well to biobank-level datasets. Here, the authors describe a new IBD algorithm, iLASH, which uses LocAlity-Sensitive Hashing to provide rapid IBD estimation when applied to the PAGE and UK Biobank datasets.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Both A/B compartments and TADs are thought to be absent from the inactive X chromosome, but to be re-established with transcriptional reactivation and chromatin opening during X-reactivation. Here, the authors characterise gene reactivation, chromatin opening and chromosome topology during X-reactivation, observe A/B-like compartments on the inactive X that guide TAD formation independently of transcription during X-reactivation.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Placental dysfunction can have catastrophic or barely discernible effects ranging from miscarriage to apparently normal birth. Here the authors present a comprehensive analysis of the human placental transcriptome and identify circular RNAs and piRNAs.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Quantifying the effects of individual loci on the human phenome is a challenging task. Here, the authors introduce a modelling technique, TGCA, that assesses total genetic contribution per locus and apply this to UK Biobank phenotype domains, revealing top loci and links to tissue-specific gene expression.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Subunits of the Elongator complex have been implicated in several nervous system pathologies. Here, the authors identify ELP2 variants in six patients with neurodevelopmental anomalies and show in mouse models that these variants impact protein stability and the activity of the complex during brain development.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The SARS-CoV-2 gene set remains unresolved, hindering dissection of COVID-19 biology. Comparing 44 Sarbecovirus genomes provides a high-confidence protein-coding gene set. The study characterizes protein-level and nucleotide-level evolutionary constraints, and prioritizes functional mutations from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The genomic organization and origin of the avenacin biosynthetic gene cluster remain unknown. Here, the authors assemble the genome of diploid oat Avena strigosa, reveal the structure and organization of the consecutive genes, characterize the last two missing pathway steps, and investigate the origin of the pathway in cereals.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The role of transcriptional enhancers and 3D chromatin organisation in coordinating the transition from naive to primed pluripotency remains poorly understood. Here the authors generate a high-resolution atlas of gene regulatory interactions, chromatin profiles and transcription factor occupancy in naive and primed human pluripotent stem cells to provide insights into these developmental processes.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Sclerosing bone disorder (SBD) includes a broad spectrum of monogenic diseases characterised by increased bone density. Here, the authors describe a previously unknown SBD in four families caused by mutations in TMEM53 and demonstrate the role this protein plays in BMP signalling during bone formation.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Intolerance to variation is a strong indicator of disease relevance for coding regions of the human genome. Here, the authors present JARVIS, a deep learning method integrating intolerance to variation in non-coding regions and sequence-specific annotations to infer non-coding variant pathogenicity.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Thousands of genetic variants have been associated with lupus, but causal variants and mechanisms are unknown. Here, the authors combine a massively parallel reporter assay with genome-wide ChIP experiments to identify risk variants with allelic enhancer activity mediated through transcription factor binding.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Active DNA demethylation is required for sexual reproduction in plants, but the underlying mechanisms are unknown. Here, the authors show that the DNA glycosylases DEMETER and REPRESSOR OF SILENCING 1 enable the DNA demethylation-dependent activation of genes involved in pollen tube progression.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The white pupae (wp) phenotype has been used for decades to selectively remove females of tephritid species in genetic sexing, but the determining gene is unknown. Here, the authors show that wp phenotype is produced by parallel mutations in a Major Facilitator Superfamily domain containing gene across multiple species.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Single cell analysis of transposase-accessible chromatin is deepening our understanding on the origins of cellular diversity, yet methods are limited by data sparsity. Here, the authors introduce SnapATAC, a pipeline to resolve cellular heterogeneity and reveal candidate regulatory elements across different cell populations.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Polycomb Group complexes maintain gene repression through the incorporation of H2AK121ub and H3K27me3. Here, the authors show that H2AK121ub marks less accessible but transcriptionally permissive chromatin, while H3K27me3 enforces a repressed transcriptionally less-permissive state.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Ophiorrhiza pumila is a medicinal plant that can produce the anti-cancer monoterpene indole alkaloid (MIA) camptothecin. Here, the authors report its genome assembly and propose a working model for MIA evolution and biosynthesis through comparative genomics, synteny, and metabolic gene cluster analyses.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Salvia miltiorrhiza is a medicinal plant that can produce the bioactive tanshinones. Here, the authors report the improved genome assembly and reveal the possible roles of three CYP71Ds in catalyzing the reactions leading to the formation of the characteristic furan D-ring of transhinones.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Studies of fruit quality traits in pears are lagging behind the other major fruit trees. Here, the authors conduct GWAS of fruit quality and phenological traits in a panel of 312 sand pear accessions using SNPs called from resequencing data, and reveal the involvement of a lignin formation-related protein in regulating stone cell development.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Replication forks that are stalled at obstacles on the DNA template can be restarted by homologous recombination. Here, the authors show replication dynamics during homologous recombination-dependent replication fork restart by combining polymerase usage sequencing and a Monte Carlo mathematical model.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The order of DNA methylation and histone modifications during transcription remained unclear. Here the authors show that HMGA2 induces DNA nicks at TGFB1-responsive genes, promoting nucleosome incorporation containing γ-H2AX, which is required for repair-mediated DNA demethylation and transcription.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The dynamics of genome architecture during human cell differentiation and upon neoplastic transformation remain poorly characterized. Here, the authors integrate in situ Hi-C and nine additional omic layers to characterize the dynamic changes in 3D genome architecture during normal B cell differentiation and in neoplastic cells from chronic lymphocytic leukemia and mantle cell lymphoma patients.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Recent evidence has questioned the dogma of strict maternal transmission of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in humans. Wei et al. saw no evidence of paternal transmission of mtDNA in 11,035 human trios, and show that nuclear-mitochondrial segments (NUMTs) can give the impression of paternal mtDNA transmission, but are actually inherited through the nuclear genome.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Developmental disorders (DDs) are more prevalent in males, thought to be due to X-linked genetic variation. Here, the authors investigate the burden of X-linked coding variants in 11,044 DD patients, showing that this contributes to ~6% of both male and female cases and therefore does not solely explain male bias in DDs.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Teff is an indigenous cereal critical to food security in the Horn of Africa. Here, the authors report an improved genome assembly and observe the surprisingly low levels of large-scale structural rearrangement, homoeologous exchanges, or bias gene loss after the formation of this tetraploid species.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Grapevine is one of a few ancestrally dioecious crops that are reverted to hermaphroditism during domestication. Here, the authors identify candidate genes related to male- and female-sterility in grapes and describe the genetic process that led to hermaphroditism during domestication.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications