Friday, November 17, 2017

Calculating time of divergence using genome sequences and mutation rates (humans vs other apes)

There are several ways to report a mutation rate. You can state it as the number of mutations per base pair per year in which case a typical mutation rate for humans is about 5 × 10-10. Or you can express it as the number of mutations per base pair per generation (~1.5 × 10-8).

You can use the number of mutations per generation or per year if you are only discussing one species. In humans, for example, you can describe the mutation rate as 100 mutations per generation and just assume that everyone knows the number of base pairs (6.4 × 10-9).

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

How much mitochondrial DNA in your genome?

Most mitochondrial genes have been transferred from the ancestral mitochondrial genome to the nuclear genome over the course of 1-2 billion years of evollution. They are no longer present in mitochondria but they are easily recognized because they resemble α-proteobacterial sequences more than the other nuclear genes [see Endosymbiotic Theory].

This process of incorporating mitochondrial DNA into the nuclear genome continues to this day. The latest human reference genome has about 600 examples of nuclear sequences of mitochondrial origin (= numts). Some of them are quite recent while others date back almost 70 million years—the limit of resolution for junk DNA [see Mitochondria are invading your genome!].

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Lateral gene transfer in eukaryotes - where's the evidence?

Lateral gene transfer (LGT), or horizontal gene transfer (HGT), is widespread in bacteria. It leads to the creation of pangenomes for many bacterial species where different subpopulations contain different subsets of genes that have been incorporated from other species. It also leads to confusing phylogenetic trees such that the history of bacterial evolution looks more like a web of life than a tree [The Web of Life].

Bacterial-like genes are also found in eukaryotes. Many of them are related to genes found in the ancestors of modern mitochondria and chloroplasts and their presence is easily explained by transfer from the organelle to the nucleus. Eukaryotic genomes also contain examples of transposons that have been acquired from bacteria. That's also easy to understand because we know how transposons jump between species.

Contaminated genome sequences

The authors of the original draft of the human genome sequence claimed that hundreds of genes had been acquired from bacteria by lateral gene transfer (LGT) (Lander et al., 2001). This claim was abandoned when the "finished" sequence was published a few years later (International Human Genome Consortium, 2004) because others had shown that the data was easily explained by differential gene loss in other lineages or by bacterial contamination in the draft sequence (see Salzberg, 2017).

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Parental age and the human mutation rate

Theme

Mutation

-definition
-mutation types
-mutation rates
-phylogeny
-controversies

Mutations are mostly due to errors in DNA replication. We have a pretty good idea of the accuracy of DNA replication—the overall error rate is about 10-10 per bp. There are about 30 cell divisions in females between zygote and formation of all egg cells. In males, there are about 400 mitotic cell divisions between zygote and formation of sperm cells. Using these average values, we can calculate the number of mutations per generation. It works out to about 130 mutations per generation [Estimating the Human Mutation Rate: Biochemical Method].

This value is similar to the estimate from comparing the sequences of different species (e.g. human and chimpanzee) based on the number of differences and the estimated time of divergence. This assumes that most of the genome is evolving at the rate expected for fixation of neutral alleles. This phylogenetic method give a value of about 112 mutations per generation [Estimating the Human Mutation Rate: Phylogenetic Method].

The third way of measuring the mutation rate is to directly compare the genome sequence of a child and both parents (trios). After making corrections for false positives and false negatives, this method yields values of 60-100 mutations per generation depending on how the data is manipulated [Estimating the Human Mutation Rate: Direct Method]. The lower values from the direct method call into question the dates of the split between the various great ape lineages. This controversy has not been resolved [Human mutation rates] [Human mutation rates - what's the right number?].

It's clear that males contribute more to evolution than females. There's about a ten-fold difference in the number of cell divisions in the male line compared to the female line; therefore, we expect there to be about ten times more mutations inherited from fathers. This difference should depend on the age of the father since the older the father the more cell divisions required to produce sperm.

This effect has been demonstrated in many publications. A maternal age effect has also been postulated but that's been more difficult to prove. The latest study of Icelandic trios helps to nail down the exact effect (Jónsson et al., 2017).

The authors examined 1,548 trios consisting of parents and at least one offspring. They analyzed 2.682 Mb of genome sequence (84% of the total genome) and discovered an average of 70 mutations events per child.1 This gives an overall mutation rate of 83 mutations per generation with an average generation time of 30 years. This is consistent with previous results.

Jónsson et al. looked at 225 cases of three generation data in order to make sure that the mutations were germline mutations and not somatic cell mutations. They plotted the numbers of mutations against the age of the father and mother to produce the following graph from Figure 1 of their paper.


Look at parents who are 30 years old. At this age, females contribute about 10 mutations and males contribute about 50. This is only a five-fold difference—much lees than we expect from the number of cell divisions. This suggests that the initial estimates of 400 cell divisions in males might be too high.

An age effect on mutations from the father is quite apparent and expected. A maternal age effect has previously been hypothesized but this is the first solid data that shows such an effect. The authors speculate that oocyotes accumulate mutations with age, particularly mutations due to strand breakage.


Of these, 93% were single nucleotide changes and 7% were small deletions or insertions.

Jónsson, H., Sulem, P., Kehr, B., Kristmundsdottir, S., Zink, F., Hjartarson, E., Hardarson, M.T., Hjorleifsson, K.E., Eggertsson, H.P., and Gudjonsson, S.A. (2017) Parental influence on human germline de novo mutations in 1,548 trios from Iceland. Nature, 549:519-522. [doi: 10.1038/nature24018]