Tag Archives: research

Bats beware of white nose

An outbreak of a fungal infection called “white-nose syndrome” is killing bats in the Northeastern US.  This New Scientist article mentions the outbreak briefly and an NPR story and recent Boston Globe story also gives it some coverage.  Sounds like we still don’t know much about the causal agent or how it is killing the bats at this time, but some researchers, including Elizabeth Buckles at Cornell University, Vishnu Chaturvedi at NY State Dept of Health, and Jon Reichard at Boston University are working on it.

This is of course old news if you read what Hyphoid Logic has been saying.

That there is a previously undescribed cold loving fungus sounds very interesting, there have been some recent discoveries of psychrophilic fungi like Cryptococcus laurentii and Rhodotorula himalayensis so it would be interesting to learn more when the researchers publish some of these results.

Some more links

Thanks Kathyrn B for reminder about this story.

A word about databases

Logo for fungal GenomesReport concludes that a fungal genome database is of “the highest priority”.

This is the title as listed in PubMed for this article from Future Medicine about the AAM report on charting future needs and avenues of research on the fungal kingdom.

The need for a comprehensive database for information about fungi, starting at least with systematic collections of genomic and transcript data, is highlighted as a major need.  Really and sort of new database effort should strive to be more comprehensive and include genetic and population data (alleles, strains) and information like protein-protein, protein-nucleic acid interactions (as Pedro mentioned). But on top of that it, it needs to be comparative so that information from systems that serve as great models can be transferred to other fungal systems that are being studied for their role as pathogens or interacting in the environmental.

Affordable next-gen sequencing will allow us to obtain genome and transcript sequence for basically all species or strains of interest.  Researchers with no bioinformatics support in their lab will likely be able to outsource this to a company or campus core facility.  But how can they easily map in the collective information about genes, proteins, and pathways onto this new data?  And have it be a dynamic system that can update as new information is published and curated in other systems.

I think this has to be the future beyond setting up a SGD, CGD, etc for every system.  The individual databases are useful for a large enough community where there are curators (and funding), but we will have to move to a more modular system in the future (aspects of which are in GMOD) that can have both an individual focus on a specific species/clade and a more comprehensive view of the that is comparable across the kingdom.  There are 100+ fungal genomes, but the community size for some of them are in the dozens of labs or less. How can they take advantage of the new resources without an existing infrastructure of curators?  Their systems serve an important need in a research aim, but how can discoveries there make its way back into the datastream of othe systems?

I see it as there are several ways one would interact with a system that provided single-genome tools as well as a framework for comparative information.  At a gene level, one might be looking for all information about a specific gene, based on sequence similarity searches, or starting with a cloned gene in one species. Something akin to Phylofacts or precomputed Orthogroups for defining a Gene but with more linking information about function by linking in information from all sources.  So a comparative resource, but also tapping into curated andliterature mined data.

At a genome level, one might want to do whole genome comparisons of gene content from evolutionarily defined families genes (gene family size change) or at a functional level.  To start out with, each gene/protein would already need a systematic functional mapping.  This could be as simple as running InterProScan on every protein, expanded to find Orthogroups (or OrthoMCL orthologs) and transfer function from model systems, and finally even more advanced, do further classified better with tools like SIFTER.

Interlinked with these orthologous and paralogous gene sets would be anchors for analyses of chromosomal synteny and even comparative assembly including tools like Mercator.  Certainly things like all of this exist but making it more pluggable for different sets of species would be an important additional component.

At a utility level, the gene annotation and functional mapping of all this information should be possible. I would imagine a researcher could upload the sequence assembly they received from the core facility and the system can generate multiple gene predictions, annotate the genes, and link these genes within the known orthogroups of the system (preserving their privacy for these genes if desired).  Presumably this sort of thing would be easier as a standalone in-house for the researcher, but web services could also be the place for this.

For fungal-sized genomes this amount of data is not too extereme.  Things like Genome Browser, BLAST, etc should all be rolled out of the box based on the basic builds.

On the DIY and community annotation front, there would also need to be a layer of community derived annotation that could be layered on all these systems.  I would imagine this both to be for gene structure annotation (genome annotation) and functional annotation (protein X does Y based on experiment Z, here is the journal reference).  I think aspects of this would be visible, auditable (tracked), but maybe not blessed as official until a curator could oversee these inputs. In my mind, whether or not this is in a Wiki per se or just new system that allows community input is less important to me than having it be a) structured (not a bunch of free text) b) tracked and versionable c) easy for researchers to input so that the knowledge is captured, even if it has to be reorganized later on.

Seems like a lot of work to be done, but really many of these things already exist through what  the GMOD project has built.  Many loose ends and software that doesn’t fully meet up to these needs, but I think the important concept is these are all general solutions that will be of benefit to most communities, not just the fungal ones.  One lingering question I always have when approaching genomic datas

that will be dynamic, what if any of this makes its way into GenBank?  How is this sort of thing banked so that it can be captured, and does the improved functional or gene structure annotation ever make its way into the repository databases to correct and improve what has already been submitted there?

Basidiomycete Research Networks

Mike Challen has summarized discussion at two recent conferences regarding a Basidiomycete Research Network at his blog in a post on BRN – Summary of Discussions, 14/07/08.

In particular it is important to establish a community network that will help basidiomycete labs. There is also a strong need for shared approaches for effective use the genomic data from the more than a dozen basidiomycete genomes currently being sequenced.

Mike’s blog is open for discussion on the topic and I hope you’ll weigh in on suggestions for how the community can better communicate and share ideas.

AAM Releases “The Fungal Kingdom” Report

AAM The Fungal Kindgom Report CoverThe American Academy of Microbiology has released a report (PDF and archived on fungalgenomes.org) on the Fungal Kingdom outlining importance of research in the kingdom and recommending several areas of priority for future areas of research.

One recommendation that makes the top of the list is an integrated database for fungal genomes, something we’re keenly interested in seeing happen.  This sort of centralized repository of functional annotation, literature links, and genome sequences and annotation is critical given the 150+ genomes that are available or on their way.  Systematic re-annotation with consistent tools, comparative analyses and gene predictions, and linking gene sequences by homology and ortholog predictions are a critical component to fully utilizing the genomic data that has been produced for the fungi and other organisms.

Fungal genome assembly from short-read sequences

This is a research blog so I though I’d post some quick numbers we are seeing for de novo assembly of the Neurospora crassa genome using Velvet. The genome of N.crassa is about 40Mb and sequencing of several flow cells using Solexa/Illumina technology to see what kind of de novo reconstruction we’d get. I knew that this is probably insufficient for a very good assembly given what has been reported in the literature, but sometimes it is helpful to give it a try on local data.  Mostly this is a project about SNP discovery from the outset. I used a hash size of 21 in velvet with an early (2FC) and later (4FC) dataset. Velvet was run with a hashsize of 21 for these data based on some calculations and running it with different hash sizes to see the optimal N50.  Summary contig size numbers come from the commands using cndtools from Colin Dewey.

  faLen < contigs.fa | stats

2 flowcells (~10M reads @36bp/read or about 10X coverage of 40Mb genome)

            N = 199562
          SUM = 25463251
          MIN = 49
       MEDIAN = 107.0
          MAX = 5371
         MEAN = 127.59568956
          N50 = 130

4 flow cells  (~20M reads @36bp/read; or about 20X coverage of a 40Mb genome)

            N = 102437
          SUM = 38352075
          MIN = 41
 1ST-QUARTILE = 77.0
       MEDIAN = 153
          MAX = 7189
         MEAN = 374.396702363
          N50 = 837

So that’s N50 of 837bp – for those used to seeing N50 on the order or 1.5Mb this is not great.  But from4 FC worth of sequencing which was pretty cheap.  This is a reasonably repeat-limited genome so we should get pretty good recovery if the seq coverage is high enough. Using Maq we can both scaffold the reads and recover a sufficient number of high quality SNPs for the mapping part of the project.

To get a better assembly one would need much deeper coverage as Daniel and Ewan explain in their Velvet paper and shown in Figure 4 (sorry, not open-access for 6 mo). Full credit: This sequence was from unpaired sequence reads from Illumina/Solexa Genomic sequencing done at UCB/QB3 facility on libraries prepared by Charles Hall in the Glass lab.