Researchers sequence megapest genome, aim to stop spread - (Tuesday, August 8, 2017)
The Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine, in collaboration with the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and an international team of renowned researchers, has sequenced the genomes of the world’s most destructive caterpillar pests of broad-acre crops. The research appears in BCM Biology.
Helicoverpa armigera and Helicoverpa zea, commonly known as the Cotton Bollworm and Corn Earworm, respectively, cause in excess of $5 billion in control costs and damage each year across Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas and Australia. The old-world bollworm, which is dominant in Australia, attacks more crops and develops much more resistance to pesticides than its new-world earworm counterpart.
“The bollworm is the single most important pest of agriculture in the world, making it humanity’s greatest competitor for food and fiber," said CSIRO scientist Dr. John Oakeshott. "Its genomic arsenal has allowed it to outgun all our known insecticides through the development of resistance, reflecting its name armigera, which means armed and warlike.’
In Brazil, the recently arrived bollworm H. armigera has been spreading rapidly, and cases of it hybridizing with the earworm have been found, posing a real threat that this new “superbug” could spread into the United States.
Because they are good fliers, populations of the old-world bollworm range across Europe to China and as far as Australia, with the oceans separating them from the new-world Corn Earworm known in the Americas.
“There has been good control of the Cotton Bollworm with Bt Cotton, a plant that expresses a toxic bacterial insecticide, which enabled far less use of chemical pesticides. But the species is adept at overcoming both plant resistance and pesticides as evidenced by the many genes encoding detoxifying enzymes found in its genome – a major reason for its megapest status,” said Dr. Stephen Richards, assistant professor in the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor.
Identifying pest origins will enable resistance profiling that reflects countries of origin when developing a resistance management strategy, while identifying incursion pathways will improve biosecurity protocols and risk analysis at biosecurity hotspots, including national ports. These genome sequences also allow the application of new genetic tools such as RNA interference and CRISPR to be used in an attempt to control these pests.
Grant to compare large-scale genomic sequencing, standard clinical tests for childhood cancer patients - (Tuesday, August 8, 2017)
Baylor College of Medicine is one of six U.S. institutions to receive a grant through the National Human Genome Research Institute’s Clinical Sequencing Evidence-Generating Research Consortium, or CSER2. The four-year grant, including $2.8 million for fiscal year 2017, co-funded by the National Cancer Institute, will support Baylor’s new KidsCanSeq program that will compare the results of large-scale genomic testing, such as whole exome sequencing, to targeted clinical tests in childhood cancer patients at five sites across the state that serve a highly diverse patient population, including Texas Children’s Cancer Center.
This study includes a comprehensive set of genomic tests that will be performed by a unique collaboration between multiple diagnostic facilities with the involvement of Dr. Richard Gibbs, director of the Human Genome Sequencing Center, Drs. Christine Eng and Shashikant Kulkarni, professors of molecular and human genetics, all of Baylor, and Dr. Angshumoy Roy, assistant professor of pathology & immunology at Baylor and Texas Children’s Hospital.
KidsCanSeq follows the Baylor Advancing Sequencing in Childhood Cancer Care (BASIC3) study at Baylor and Texas Children’s Cancer Center, which developed the initial protocols for performing clinical genomic testing of pediatric cancer patients, reporting results and communicating those results to families and oncologists. BASIC3 was part of the NHGRI Clinical Sequencing Exploratory Research program, a precursor to CSER2.
Genome sequencing shows spiders, scorpions share ancestor - (Monday, July 31, 2017)
In collaboration with scientists from the U.K., Europe, Japan and the United States, researchers at the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine have discovered a whole genome duplication during the evolution of spiders and scorpions. The study appears in BMC Biology.
Researchers have long been studying spiders and scorpions for both applied reasons, such as studying venom components for pharmaceuticals and silks for materials science, and for basic questions such as the reasons for the evolution and to understand the development and ecological success of this diverse group of carnivorous organisms.
As part of a pilot project for the i5K, a project to study the genomes of 5,000 arthropod species, the Human Genome Sequencing Center analyzed the genome of the house spider Parasteatoda tepidariorum – a model species studied in laboratories – and the Arizona bark scorpion Centruroides sculpturatus, – the most venomous scorpion in North America.
Analysis of these genomes revealed that spiders and scorpions evolved from a shared ancestor more than 400 million years ago, which made new copies of all of the genes in its genome, a process called whole genome duplication. Such an event is one of the largest evolutionary changes that can happen to a genome and is relatively rare during animal evolution.
Dr. Stephen Richards, associate professor in the Human Genome Sequencing Center, who led the genome sequencing at Baylor, said, “It is tremendously exciting to see rapid progress in our molecular understanding of a species that we coexist with on planet earth. Spider genome analysis is particularly tricky, and we believe this is one of the highest quality spider genomes to date.”
“Many people fear spiders and scorpions, but this research shows what a beautiful part of the evolutionary tree they represent,” said Dr. Richard Gibbs, director of the Human Genome Sequencing Center and the Wofford Cain Chair and professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor.
“Costs have now dropped rapidly enough from tens of millions of dollars to merely a few thousand dollars for this genomic analyses to now be performed on any species,” Richards said. “There is still so much more to learn about the life on earth around us, and I believe this result is just the beginning of understanding the molecular make up of spiders.”
For a full list of contributors and funding sources, click here.
Cancer Researchers Report Progress in Studying Exceptional Responders - (Thursday, July 6, 2017)
Researchers who study exceptional responders—patients who have dramatic and long-lasting responses to treatments for cancer that were not effective for most similar patients—met recently to exchange ideas and discuss the state of the science in this emerging field.
The NCI-sponsored meeting, held May 11 at NCI’s Shady Grove campus in Rockville, Maryland, featured updates on the Exceptional Responders Initiative, a pilot study that aims to gain insights into the biological mechanisms that give rise to these unusual responses to treatments.
In the NCI study, patient samples are analyzed by investigators at the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center and the cancer genomics company Foundation Medicine. This process includes sequencing DNA and RNA, as well as assessing the number of copies of certain DNA segments.
Analyses of liver cancer reveals unexpected genetic players - (Thursday, June 15, 2017)
Liver cancer has the second-highest worldwide cancer mortality, and yet there are limited therapeutic options to manage the disease. To learn more about the genetic causes of this cancer, and to identify potential new therapeutic targets for HCC, a nation-wide team of genomics researchers co-led by David Wheeler, Director of Cancer Genomics and Professor in the Human Genome Sequencing Center (HGSC) at Baylor College of Medicine, and Lewis Roberts, Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic, analyzed 363 liver cancer cases from all over the world gathering genome mutations, epigenetic alteration through DNA methylation, RNA expression and protein expression. The research appears in Cell.
Part of the larger Cancer Genome Atlas project (TCGA), this work represents the first large scale, multi-platform analysis of HCC looking at numerous dimensions of the tumor. “There have been large-cohort studies in liver cancer in the past, but they have been limited mainly to one aspect of the tumor, genome mutation. By looking at a wide variety of the tumor’s molecular characteristics we get substantially deeper insights into the operation of the cancer cell at the molecular level,” Wheeler said.
The research team made a number of interesting associations, including uncovering a major role of the sonic hedgehog pathway. Through a combination of p53 mutation, DNA methylation and viral integrations, this pathway becomes aberrantly activated. The sonic hedgehog pathway, the role of which had not been full appreciated in liver cancer previously, is activated in nearly half of the samples analyzed in this study.
“We have a very active liver cancer community here at Baylor, so we had a great opportunity to work with them and benefit from their insights into liver cancer,” Wheeler said. Among the many critical functions of the liver, hepatocytes expend a lot of energy in the production of albumin and urea. It was fascinating to realize how the liver cancer cell shuts these functions off, to its own purpose of tumor growth and cell division.
“Intriguingly, we found that the urea cycle enzyme carbamyl phosphate synthase is downregulated by hypermethylation, while cytoplasmic carbamyl phosphate synthase II is upregulated,” said Karl-Dimiter Bissig, Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Baylor and co-author of the study. “This might be explained by the anabolic needs of liver cancer, reprogramming glutamine pathways to favor pyrimidine production potentially facilitating DNA replication, which is beneficial to the cancer cell.”
“Albumin and apolipoprotein B are unexpected members on the list of genes mutated in liver cancer. Although neither has any obvious connection to cancer, both are at the top of the list of products that the liver secretes into the blood as part of its ordinary functions,” explained Dr. David Moore, professor of molecular and cellular biology at Baylor. “For the cancer cell, this secretion is a significant loss of raw materials, amino acids and lipids that could be used for growth. We proposed that mutation of these genes would give the cancer cells a growth advantage by preventing this expensive loss.”
Multiple data platforms coupled with clinical data allowed the researchers to correlate the molecular findings with clinical attributes of the tumor, leading to insights into the roles of its molecules and genes to help design new therapies and identify prognostic implications that have the potential to influence HCC clinical management and survivorship.
“This is outstanding research analyzing a cancer that’s increasing in frequency, especially in Texas. Notably, the observation of gene expression signatures that forecast patient outcome, which we validate in external cohorts, is a remarkable achievement of the study. The results have the potential to mark a turning point in the treatment of this cancer,” said Dr. Richard Gibbs, director of the HGSC at Baylor. The HGSC was also the DNA sequence production Center for the project.
Wheeler says they expect the data produced by this TCGA study to lead to new avenues for therapy in this difficult cancer for years to come. “There are inhibitors currently under development for the sonic hedgehog pathway, and our results suggest that those inhibitors, if they pass into phase one clinical trials, could be applied in liver cancer patients, since the pathway is frequently activated in these patients,” added Wheeler.
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and represents the last major cancer to be analyzed in the TCGA program. See a full list of contributors.
Fully sequenced deer genome made publicly available - (Friday, June 2, 2017)
Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine have played a leading role in sequencing the whole genome of the common white-tailed deer, which has recently been made public by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
“We are hoping that by understanding the deer genome in greater detail, we will be able to better consider how to approach and treat bone-related illnesses and disease, such as osteoporosis,” said Dr. Brendan Lee, chair of the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor. “For example, antler growth each season is an example of the fastest and largest regenerating organ in nature.”
The deer genome has the potential to provide insights into bone behavior, more specifically how deer are able to regenerate and repair bone after it is lost or damaged.
The sequencing of the deer genome was made possible through collaboration among the Center for Skeletal Medicine and Biology at Baylor, the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor, the Rolanette and Berdon Lawrence Bone Disease Program of Texas, Berdon and Rolanette Lawrence, and the Caesar Kleberg Wild Life Research Institute. Prior to the publishing by the NCBI, the data was submitted to the National Institutes of Health.
Baylor's Human Genome Sequencing Center looks to bring adult whole genome sequencing to clinical space with unprecedented NHLBI grant - (Wednesday, March 1, 2017)
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine (TOPMed) program has named the Human Genome Sequencing Center (HGSC) at Baylor College of Medicine as a participant in a groundbreaking half-billion dollar program to bring whole genome sequencing and other –omic technologies that monitor the expression of the genome in response to the environment, to the forefront of clinical research.
Through its TOPMed program, NHLBI is expanding its dedication to advancing the understanding of the underpinnings of complex diseases and how they develop. Previously, the HGSC was awarded funding by NHLBI to sequence whole genomes for TOPMed studies such as sickle cell disease, and venous thromboembolism and will continue to expand this effort in the next phase of the program. The new contract will span five years. In addition to the whole genome sequencing component, the TOPMed program will also provide analysis of other datatypes over the course of the contract period, including RNA transcription sequencing, DNA methylation, metabolomics profiles, and other –omics, including analysis of the microbiome. The initial award from NHLBI supports the whole genome sequencing of 20,000 samples at the HGSC in the first year of the program.
“There is a significant need for large sample sizes; a need that goes beyond the research setting and into the clinic,” said Dr. Richard Gibbs, director of the HGSC and professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor. “We are grateful to be a part of the TOPMed program which will allow us to access this large sample number and obtain valuable insights into adult heart disease, sickle cell disease, atrial fibrillation and other heart, lung and hematologic disorders.”
Bench to Bedside Podcast: Gene Sequencing Enables Rare Diagnosis in Twins - (Tuesday, February 28, 2017)
The Association of American Medical Colleges' "Bench to Bedside" podcast focuses on the story of Alexis and Noah Beery. For years a degenerative condition kept the twins from living a typical childhood. That changed when thanks to their mother's persistence and breakthrough genomic sequencing and analysis at the Baylor College of Medicine's Human Genome Sequencing Center, researchers were able to zero in on the genetic disorder and restore the siblings to healthy and active lives.
Fighting sickle cell disease using a type 2 diabetes medication - (Tuesday, January 10, 2017)
Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers have discovered a gene, FOXO3, involved in controlling fetal hemoglobin production and were able to target the gene and “turn on” fetal hemoglobin levels in patient samples in the lab using the diabetes drug metformin. This offers promising new treatments – the first new drug treatment for sickle cell disease in 30 years and the first ever for beta thalassemia.
Starting with 171 patient blood samples and later expanding to 400 more, Dr. Vivien Sheehan, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor and Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers, and her research colleagues were looking for genetic differences in sickle cell patients who make a lot of fetal hemoglobin versus those who do not. Collaborating with Baylor’s Human Genome Sequencing Center, they used whole exome sequencing and discovered that the FOXO3 gene seemed to control fetal hemoglobin. They found that patients with mutations in the FOXO3 gene made less fetal hemoglobin. Researchers proved this association in the lab by knocking out FOXO3 in human bone marrow cells, which resulted in less fetal hemoglobin, and then overexpressing the gene, which increased it.
With funding from Pfizer, a clinical trial has launched to further study the effectiveness of metformin in patients with sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.