Single-gene knockout experiments can fail to reveal function in the context of redundancy, which is frequently observed among duplicated genes (paralogs) with overlapping functions. We discuss the complexity associated with studying paralogs and outline how recent advances in CRISPR will help address the "phenotype gap" and impact biomedical research.
One of the most powerful ways to develop hypotheses regarding biological functions of conserved genes in a given species, such as in humans, is to first look at what is known about function in another species. Model organism databases (MODs) and other resources are rich with functional information but difficult to mine. Gene2Function (G2F) addresses a broad need by integrating information about conserved genes in a single online resource.
One major challenge encountered with interpreting human genetic variants is the limited understanding of the functional impact of genetic alterations on biological processes. Furthermore, there remains an unmet demand for an efficient survey of the wealth of information on human homologs in model organisms across numerous databases. To efficiently assess the large volume of publically available information, it is important to provide a concise summary of the most relevant information in a rapid user-friendly format. To this end, we created MARRVEL (model organism aggregated resources for rare variant exploration). MARRVEL is a publicly available website that integrates information from six human genetic databases and seven model organism databases. For any given variant or gene, MARRVEL displays information from OMIM, ExAC, ClinVar, Geno2MP, DGV, and DECIPHER. Importantly, it curates model organism-specific databases to concurrently display a concise summary regarding the human gene homologs in budding and fission yeast, worm, fly, fish, mouse, and rat on a single webpage. Experiment-based information on tissue expression, protein subcellular localization, biological process, and molecular function for the human gene and homologs in the seven model organisms are arranged into a concise output. Hence, rather than visiting multiple separate databases for variant and gene analysis, users can obtain important information by searching once through MARRVEL. Altogether, MARRVEL dramatically improves efficiency and accessibility to data collection and facilitates analysis of human genes and variants by cross-disciplinary integration of 18 million records available in public databases to facilitate clinical diagnosis and basic research.
Our understanding of the genetic mechanisms that underlie biological processes has relied extensively on loss-of-function (LOF) analyses. LOF methods target DNA, RNA or protein to reduce or to ablate gene function. By analysing the phenotypes that are caused by these perturbations the wild-type function of genes can be elucidated. Although all LOF methods reduce gene activity, the choice of approach (for example, mutagenesis, CRISPR-based gene editing, RNA interference, morpholinos or pharmacological inhibition) can have a major effect on phenotypic outcomes. Interpretation of the LOF phenotype must take into account the biological process that is targeted by each method. The practicality and efficiency of LOF methods also vary considerably between model systems. We describe parameters for choosing the optimal combination of method and system, and for interpreting phenotypes within the constraints of each method.
The FlyRNAi database of the Drosophila RNAi Screening Center (DRSC) and Transgenic RNAi Project (TRiP) at Harvard Medical School and associated DRSC/TRiP Functional Genomics Resources website (http://fgr.hms.harvard.edu) serve as a reagent production tracking system, screen data repository, and portal to the community. Through this portal, we make available protocols, online tools, and other resources useful to researchers at all stages of high-throughput functional genomics screening, from assay design and reagent identification to data analysis and interpretation. In this update, we describe recent changes and additions to our website, database and suite of online tools. Recent changes reflect a shift in our focus from a single technology (RNAi) and model species (Drosophila) to the application of additional technologies (e.g. CRISPR) and support of integrated, cross-species approaches to uncovering gene function using functional genomics and other approaches.
The rapid rise of CRISPR as a technology for genome engineering and related research applications has created a need for algorithms and associated online tools that facilitate design of on-target and effective guide RNAs (gRNAs). Here, we review the state-of-the-art in CRISPR gRNA design for research applications of the CRISPR-Cas9 system, including knockout, activation and inhibition. Notably, achieving good gRNA design is not solely dependent on innovations in CRISPR technology. Good design and design tools also rely on availability of high-quality genome sequence and gene annotations, as well as on availability of accumulated data regarding off-targets and effectiveness metrics. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
BACKGROUND: Mapping of orthologous genes among species serves an important role in functional genomics by allowing researchers to develop hypotheses about gene function in one species based on what is known about the functions of orthologs in other species. Several tools for predicting orthologous gene relationships are available. However, these tools can give different results and identification of predicted orthologs is not always straightforward. RESULTS: We report a simple but effective tool, the Drosophila RNAi Screening Center Integrative Ortholog Prediction Tool (DIOPT; http://www.flyrnai.org/diopt), for rapid identification of orthologs. DIOPT integrates existing approaches, facilitating rapid identification of orthologs among human, mouse, zebrafish, C. elegans, Drosophila, and S. cerevisiae. As compared to individual tools, DIOPT shows increased sensitivity with only a modest decrease in specificity. Moreover, the flexibility built into the DIOPT graphical user interface allows researchers with different goals to appropriately 'cast a wide net' or limit results to highest confidence predictions. DIOPT also displays protein and domain alignments, including percent amino acid identity, for predicted ortholog pairs. This helps users identify the most appropriate matches among multiple possible orthologs. To facilitate using model organisms for functional analysis of human disease-associated genes, we used DIOPT to predict high-confidence orthologs of disease genes in Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) and genes in genome-wide association study (GWAS) data sets. The results are accessible through the DIOPT diseases and traits query tool (DIOPT-DIST; http://www.flyrnai.org/diopt-dist). CONCLUSIONS: DIOPT and DIOPT-DIST are useful resources for researchers working with model organisms, especially those who are interested in exploiting model organisms such as Drosophila to study the functions of human disease genes.
BACKGROUND: Insights into how the Frizzled/LRP6 receptor complex receives, transduces and terminates Wnt signals will enhance our understanding of the control of the Wnt/ss-catenin pathway. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: In pursuit of such insights, we performed a genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila cells expressing an activated form of LRP6 and a beta-catenin-responsive reporter. This screen resulted in the identification of Bili, a Band4.1-domain containing protein, as a negative regulator of Wnt/beta-catenin signaling. We found that the expression of Bili in Drosophila embryos and larval imaginal discs significantly overlaps with the expression of Wingless (Wg), the Drosophila Wnt ortholog, which is consistent with a potential function for Bili in the Wg pathway. We then tested the functions of Bili in both invertebrate and vertebrate animal model systems. Loss-of-function studies in Drosophila and zebrafish embryos, as well as human cultured cells, demonstrate that Bili is an evolutionarily conserved antagonist of Wnt/beta-catenin signaling. Mechanistically, we found that Bili exerts its antagonistic effects by inhibiting the recruitment of AXIN to LRP6 required during pathway activation. CONCLUSIONS: These studies identify Bili as an evolutionarily conserved negative regulator of the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway.
The Wnt-Wingless (Wg) pathway is one of a core set of evolutionarily conserved signaling pathways that regulates many aspects of metazoan development. Aberrant Wnt signaling has been linked to human disease. In the present study, we used a genomewide RNA interference (RNAi) screen in Drosophila cells to screen for regulators of the Wnt pathway. We identified 238 potential regulators, which include known pathway components, genes with functions not previously linked to this pathway, and genes with no previously assigned functions. Reciprocal-Best-Blast analyses reveal that 50% of the genes identified in the screen have human orthologs, of which approximately 18% are associated with human disease. Functional assays of selected genes from the cell-based screen in Drosophila, mammalian cells, and zebrafish embryos demonstrated that these genes have evolutionarily conserved functions in Wnt signaling. High-throughput RNAi screens in cultured cells, followed by functional analyses in model organisms, prove to be a rapid means of identifying regulators of signaling pathways implicated in development and disease.