skip to main content

Title: Stable unmethylated DNA demarcates expressed genes and their cis-regulatory space in plant genomes

The genomic sequences of crops continue to be produced at a frenetic pace. It remains challenging to develop complete annotations of functional genes and regulatory elements in these genomes. Chromatin accessibility assays enable discovery of functional elements; however, to uncover the full portfolio of cis-elements would require profiling of many combinations of cell types, tissues, developmental stages, and environments. Here, we explore the potential to use DNA methylation profiles to develop more complete annotations. Using leaf tissue in maize, we define ∼100,000 unmethylated regions (UMRs) that account for 5.8% of the genome; 33,375 UMRs are found greater than 2 kb from genes. UMRs are highly stable in multiple vegetative tissues, and they capture the vast majority of accessible chromatin regions from leaf tissue. However, many UMRs are not accessible in leaf, and these represent regions with potential to become accessible in specific cell types or developmental stages. These UMRs often occur near genes that are expressed in other tissues and are enriched for binding sites of transcription factors. The leaf-inaccessible UMRs exhibit unique chromatin modification patterns and are enriched for chromatin interactions with nearby genes. The total UMR space in four additional monocots ranges from 80 to 120 megabases, which is remarkably similar considering the range in genome size of 271 megabases to 4.8 gigabases. In summary, based on the profile from a single tissue, DNA methylation signatures provide powerful filters to distill large genomes down to the small fraction of putative functional genes and regulatory elements.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
1905869 1856627 1802848 1934384
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 23991-24000
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract Background

    The genetic information contained in the genome of an organism is organized in genes and regulatory elements that control gene expression. The genomes of multiple plants species have already been sequenced and the gene repertory have been annotated, however,cis-regulatory elements remain less characterized, limiting our understanding of genome functionality. These elements act as open platforms for recruiting both positive- and negative-acting transcription factors, and as such, chromatin accessibility is an important signature for their identification.


    In this work we developed a transgenic INTACT [isolation of nuclei tagged in specific cell types] system in tetraploid wheat for nuclei purifications. Then, we combined the INTACT system together with the assay for transposase-accessible chromatin with sequencing [ATAC-seq] to identify open chromatin regions in wheat root tip samples. Our ATAC-seq results showed a large enrichment of open chromatin regions in intergenic and promoter regions, which is expected for regulatory elements and that is similar to ATAC-seq results obtained in other plant species. In addition, root ATAC-seq peaks showed a significant overlap with a previously published ATAC-seq data from wheat leaf protoplast, indicating a high reproducibility between the two experiments and a large overlap between open chromatin regions in root and leaf tissues. Importantly, we observed overlap between ATAC-seq peaks andcis-regulatory elements that have been functionally validated in wheat, and a good correlation between normalized accessibility and gene expression levels.


    We have developed and validated an INTACT system in tetraploid wheat that allows rapid and high-quality nuclei purification from root tips. Those nuclei were successfully used to performed ATAC-seq experiments that revealed open chromatin regions in the wheat genome that will be useful to identify cis-regulatory elements. The INTACT system presented here will facilitate the development of ATAC-seq datasets in other tissues, growth stages, and under different growing conditions to generate a more complete landscape of the accessible DNA regions in the wheat genome.

    more » « less
  2. INTRODUCTION Transposable elements (TEs), repeat expansions, and repeat-mediated structural rearrangements play key roles in chromosome structure and species evolution, contribute to human genetic variation, and substantially influence human health through copy number variants, structural variants, insertions, deletions, and alterations to gene transcription and splicing. Despite their formative role in genome stability, repetitive regions have been relegated to gaps and collapsed regions in human genome reference GRCh38 owing to the technological limitations during its development. The lack of linear sequence in these regions, particularly in centromeres, resulted in the inability to fully explore the repeat content of the human genome in the context of both local and regional chromosomal environments. RATIONALE Long-read sequencing supported the complete, telomere-to-telomere (T2T) assembly of the pseudo-haploid human cell line CHM13. This resource affords a genome-scale assessment of all human repetitive sequences, including TEs and previously unknown repeats and satellites, both within and outside of gaps and collapsed regions. Additionally, a complete genome enables the opportunity to explore the epigenetic and transcriptional profiles of these elements that are fundamental to our understanding of chromosome structure, function, and evolution. Comparative analyses reveal modes of repeat divergence, evolution, and expansion or contraction with locus-level resolution. RESULTS We implemented a comprehensive repeat annotation workflow using previously known human repeats and de novo repeat modeling followed by manual curation, including assessing overlaps with gene annotations, segmental duplications, tandem repeats, and annotated repeats. Using this method, we developed an updated catalog of human repetitive sequences and refined previous repeat annotations. We discovered 43 previously unknown repeats and repeat variants and characterized 19 complex, composite repetitive structures, which often carry genes, across T2T-CHM13. Using precision nuclear run-on sequencing (PRO-seq) and CpG methylated sites generated from Oxford Nanopore Technologies long-read sequencing data, we assessed RNA polymerase engagement across retroelements genome-wide, revealing correlations between nascent transcription, sequence divergence, CpG density, and methylation. These analyses were extended to evaluate RNA polymerase occupancy for all repeats, including high-density satellite repeats that reside in previously inaccessible centromeric regions of all human chromosomes. Moreover, using both mapping-dependent and mapping-independent approaches across early developmental stages and a complete cell cycle time series, we found that engaged RNA polymerase across satellites is low; in contrast, TE transcription is abundant and serves as a boundary for changes in CpG methylation and centromere substructure. Together, these data reveal the dynamic relationship between transcriptionally active retroelement subclasses and DNA methylation, as well as potential mechanisms for the derivation and evolution of new repeat families and composite elements. Focusing on the emerging T2T-level assembly of the HG002 X chromosome, we reveal that a high level of repeat variation likely exists across the human population, including composite element copy numbers that affect gene copy number. Additionally, we highlight the impact of repeats on the structural diversity of the genome, revealing repeat expansions with extreme copy number differences between humans and primates while also providing high-confidence annotations of retroelement transduction events. CONCLUSION The comprehensive repeat annotations and updated repeat models described herein serve as a resource for expanding the compendium of human genome sequences and reveal the impact of specific repeats on the human genome. In developing this resource, we provide a methodological framework for assessing repeat variation within and between human genomes. The exhaustive assessment of the transcriptional landscape of repeats, at both the genome scale and locally, such as within centromeres, sets the stage for functional studies to disentangle the role transcription plays in the mechanisms essential for genome stability and chromosome segregation. Finally, our work demonstrates the need to increase efforts toward achieving T2T-level assemblies for nonhuman primates and other species to fully understand the complexity and impact of repeat-derived genomic innovations that define primate lineages, including humans. Telomere-to-telomere assembly of CHM13 supports repeat annotations and discoveries. The human reference T2T-CHM13 filled gaps and corrected collapsed regions (triangles) in GRCh38. Combining long read–based methylation calls, PRO-seq, and multilevel computational methods, we provide a compendium of human repeats, define retroelement expression and methylation profiles, and delineate locus-specific sites of nascent transcription genome-wide, including previously inaccessible centromeres. SINE, short interspersed element; SVA, SINE–variable number tandem repeat– Alu ; LINE, long interspersed element; LTR, long terminal repeat; TSS, transcription start site; pA, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract Accessible chromatin and unmethylated DNA are associated with many genes and cis-regulatory elements. Attempts to understand natural variation for accessible chromatin regions (ACRs) and unmethylated regions (UMRs) often rely upon alignments to a single reference genome. This limits the ability to assess regions that are absent in the reference genome assembly and monitor how nearby structural variants influence variation in chromatin state. In this study, de novo genome assemblies for four maize inbreds (B73, Mo17, Oh43, and W22) are utilized to assess chromatin accessibility and DNA methylation patterns in a pan-genome context. A more complete set of UMRs and ACRs can be identified when chromatin data are aligned to the matched genome rather than a single reference genome. While there are UMRs and ACRs present within genomic regions that are not shared between genotypes, these features are 6- to 12-fold enriched within regions between genomes. Characterization of UMRs present within shared genomic regions reveals that most UMRs maintain the unmethylated state in other genotypes with only ∼5% being polymorphic between genotypes. However, the majority (71%) of UMRs that are shared between genotypes only exhibit partial overlaps suggesting that the boundaries between methylated and unmethylated DNA are dynamic. This instability is not solely due to sequence variation as these partially overlapping UMRs are frequently found within genomic regions that lack sequence variation. The ability to compare chromatin properties among individuals with structural variation enables pan-epigenome analyses to study the sources of variation for accessible chromatin and unmethylated DNA. 
    more » « less
  4. null (Ed.)
    Abstract Transposable elements (TEs) pervade most eukaryotic genomes. The repetitive nature of TEs complicates the analysis of their expression. Evaluation of the expression of both TE families (using unique and multi-mapping reads) and specific elements (using uniquely mapping reads) in leaf tissue of three maize (Zea mays) inbred lines subjected to heat or cold stress reveals no evidence for genome-wide activation of TEs; however, some specific TE families generate transcripts only in stress conditions. There is substantial variation for which TE families exhibit stress-responsive expression in the different genotypes. In order to understand the factors that drive expression of TEs, we focused on a subset of families in which we could monitor expression of individual elements. The stress-responsive activation of a TE family can often be attributed to a small number of elements in the family that contains regions lacking DNA methylation. Comparisons of the expression of TEs in different genotypes revealed both genetic and epigenetic variation. Many of the specific TEs that are activated in stress in one inbred are not present in the other inbred, explaining the lack of activation. Among the elements that are shared in both genomes but only expressed in one genotype, we found that many exhibit differences in DNA methylation such that the genotype without expression is fully methylated. This study provides insights into the regulation of expression of TEs in normal and stress conditions and highlights the role of chromatin variation between elements in a family or between genotypes for contributing to expression variation. The highly repetitive nature of many TEs complicates the analysis of their expression. Although most TEs are not expressed, some exhibits expression in certain tissues or conditions. We monitored the expression of both TE families (using unique and multi-mapping reads) and specific elements (using uniquely mapping reads) in leaf tissue of three maize (Zea mays) inbred lines subjected to heat or cold stress. While genome-wide activation of TEs did not occur, some TE families generated transcripts only in stress conditions with variation by genotype. To better understand the factors that drive expression of TEs, we focused on a subset of families in which we could monitor expression of individual elements. In most cases, stress-responsive activation of a TE family was attributed to a small number of elements in the family. The elements that contained small regions lacking DNA methylation regions showed enriched expression while fully methylated elements were rarely expressed in control or stress conditions. The cause of varied expression in the different genotypes was due to both genetic and epigenetic variation. Many specific TEs activated by stress in one inbred were not present in the other inbred. Among the elements shared in both genomes, full methylation inhibited expression in one of the genotypes. This study provides insights into the regulation of TE expression in normal and stress conditions and highlights the role of chromatin variation between elements in a family or between genotypes for contributing to expression. 
    more » « less
  5. Almost all regulation of gene expression in eukaryotic genomes is mediated by the action of distant non-coding transcriptional enhancers upon proximal gene promoters. Enhancer locations cannot be accurately predicted bioinformatically because of the absence of a defined sequence code, and thus functional assays are required for their direct detection. Here we used a massively parallel reporter assay, Self-Transcribing Active Regulatory Region sequencing (STARR-seq), to generate the first comprehensive genome-wide map of enhancers in Anopheles coluzzii , a major African malaria vector in the Gambiae species complex. The screen was carried out by transfecting reporter libraries created from the genomic DNA of 60 wild A. coluzzii from Burkina Faso into A. coluzzii 4a3A cells, in order to functionally query enhancer activity of the natural population within the homologous cellular context. We report a catalog of 3,288 active genomic enhancers that were significant across three biological replicates, 74% of them located in intergenic and intronic regions. The STARR-seq enhancer screen is chromatin-free and thus detects inherent activity of a comprehensive catalog of enhancers that may be restricted in vivo to specific cell types or developmental stages. Testing of a validation panel of enhancer candidates using manual luciferase assays confirmed enhancer function in 26 of 28 (93%) of the candidates over a wide dynamic range of activity from two to at least 16-fold activity above baseline. The enhancers occupy only 0.7% of the genome, and display distinct composition features. The enhancer compartment is significantly enriched for 15 transcription factor binding site signatures, and displays divergence for specific dinucleotide repeats, as compared to matched non-enhancer genomic controls. The genome-wide catalog of A. coluzzii enhancers is publicly available in a simple searchable graphic format. This enhancer catalogue will be valuable in linking genetic and phenotypic variation, in identifying regulatory elements that could be employed in vector manipulation, and in better targeting of chromosome editing to minimize extraneous regulation influences on the introduced sequences. Importance: Understanding the role of the non-coding regulatory genome in complex disease phenotypes is essential, but even in well-characterized model organisms, identification of regulatory regions within the vast non-coding genome remains a challenge. We used a large-scale assay to generate a genome wide map of transcriptional enhancers. Such a catalogue for the important malaria vector, Anopheles coluzzii , will be an important research tool as the role of non-coding regulatory variation in differential susceptibility to malaria infection is explored and as a public resource for research on this important insect vector of disease. 
    more » « less