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INTRODUCTION A major challenge in genomics is discerning which bases among billions alter organismal phenotypes and affect health and disease risk. Evidence of past selective pressure on a base, whether highly conserved or fast evolving, is a marker of functional importance. Bases that are unchanged in all mammals may shape phenotypes that are essential for organismal health. Bases that are evolving quickly in some species, or changed only in species that share an adaptive trait, may shape phenotypes that support survival in specific niches. Identifying bases associated with exceptional capacity for cellular recovery, such as in species that hibernate, could inform therapeutic discovery. RATIONALE The power and resolution of evolutionary analyses scale with the number and diversity of species compared. By analyzing genomes for hundreds of placental mammals, we can detect which individual bases in the genome are exceptionally conserved (constrained) and likely to be functionally important in both coding and noncoding regions. By including species that represent all orders of placental mammals and aligning genomes using a method that does not require designating humans as the reference species, we explore unusual traits in other species. RESULTS Zoonomia’s mammalian comparative genomics resources are the most comprehensive and statistically well-powered produced to date, with a protein-coding alignment of 427 mammals and a whole-genome alignment of 240 placental mammals representing all orders. We estimate that at least 10.7% of the human genome is evolutionarily conserved relative to neutrally evolving repeats and identify about 101 million significantly constrained single bases (false discovery rate < 0.05). We cataloged 4552 ultraconserved elements at least 20 bases long that are identical in more than 98% of the 240 placental mammals. Many constrained bases have no known function, illustrating the potential for discovery using evolutionary measures. Eighty percent are outside protein-coding exons, and half have no functional annotations in the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) resource. Constrained bases tend to vary less within human populations, which is consistent with purifying selection. Species threatened with extinction have few substitutions at constrained sites, possibly because severely deleterious alleles have been purged from their small populations. By pairing Zoonomia’s genomic resources with phenotype annotations, we find genomic elements associated with phenotypes that differ between species, including olfaction, hibernation, brain size, and vocal learning. We associate genomic traits, such as the number of olfactory receptor genes, with physical phenotypes, such as the number of olfactory turbinals. By comparing hibernators and nonhibernators, we implicate genes involved in mitochondrial disorders, protection against heat stress, and longevity in this physiologically intriguing phenotype. Using a machine learning–based approach that predicts tissue-specific cis - regulatory activity in hundreds of species using data from just a few, we associate changes in noncoding sequence with traits for which humans are exceptional: brain size and vocal learning. CONCLUSION Large-scale comparative genomics opens new opportunities to explore how genomes evolved as mammals adapted to a wide range of ecological niches and to discover what is shared across species and what is distinctively human. High-quality data for consistently defined phenotypes are necessary to realize this potential. Through partnerships with researchers in other fields, comparative genomics can address questions in human health and basic biology while guiding efforts to protect the biodiversity that is essential to these discoveries. Comparing genomes from 240 species to explore the evolution of placental mammals. Our new phylogeny (black lines) has alternating gray and white shading, which distinguishes mammalian orders (labeled around the perimeter). Rings around the phylogeny annotate species phenotypes. Seven species with diverse traits are illustrated, with black lines marking their branch in the phylogeny. Sequence conservation across species is described at the top left. IMAGE CREDIT: K. MORRILLmore » « less
Genetic association signals have been mostly found in noncoding regions through genome-wide association studies (GWAS), suggesting the roles of gene expression regulation in human diseases and traits. However, there has been limited success in colocalizing expression quantitative trait locus (eQTL) with disease-associated variants. Mediated expression score regression (MESC) is a recently proposed method to quantify the proportion of trait heritability mediated by genetically regulated gene expressions (GReX). Applications of MESC to GWAS results have yielded low estimation of mediated heritability for many traits. As MESC relies on stringent independence assumptions between cis-eQTL effects, gene effects, and nonmediated SNP effects, it may fail to characterize the true relationships between those effect sizes, which leads to biased results. Here, we consider the robustness of MESC to investigate whether the low fraction of mediated heritability inferred by MESC reflects biological reality for complex traits or is an underestimation caused by model misspecifications. Our results suggest that MESC may lead to biased estimates of mediated heritability with misspecification of gene annotations leading to underestimation, whereas misspecification of SNP annotations may lead to overestimation. Furthermore, errors in eQTL effect estimates may lead to underestimation of mediated heritability.
While variance components analysis has emerged as a powerful tool in complex trait genetics, existing methods for fitting variance components do not scale well to large-scale datasets of genetic variation. Here, we present a method for variance components analysis that is accurate and efficient: capable of estimating one hundred variance components on a million individuals genotyped at a million SNPs in a few hours. We illustrate the utility of our method in estimating and partitioning variation in a trait explained by genotyped SNPs (SNP-heritability). Analyzing 22 traits with genotypes from 300,000 individuals across about 8 million common and low frequency SNPs, we observe that per-allele squared effect size increases with decreasing minor allele frequency (MAF) and linkage disequilibrium (LD) consistent with the action of negative selection. Partitioning heritability across 28 functional annotations, we observe enrichment of heritability in FANTOM5 enhancers in asthma, eczema, thyroid and autoimmune disorders.
INTRODUCTION Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) have identified thousands of human genetic variants associated with diverse diseases and traits, and most of these variants map to noncoding loci with unknown target genes and function. Current approaches to understand which GWAS loci harbor causal variants and to map these noncoding regulators to target genes suffer from low throughput. With newer multiancestry GWASs from individuals of diverse ancestries, there is a pressing and growing need to scale experimental assays to connect GWAS variants with molecular mechanisms. Here, we combined biobank-scale GWASs, massively parallel CRISPR screens, and single-cell sequencing to discover target genes of noncoding variants for blood trait loci with systematic targeting and inhibition of noncoding GWAS loci with single-cell sequencing (STING-seq). RATIONALE Blood traits are highly polygenic, and GWASs have identified thousands of noncoding loci that map to candidate cis -regulatory elements (CREs). By combining CRE-silencing CRISPR perturbations and single-cell readouts, we targeted hundreds of GWAS loci in a single assay, revealing target genes in cis and in trans . For select CREs that regulate target genes, we performed direct variant insertion. Although silencing the CRE can identify the target gene, direct variant insertion can identify magnitude and direction of effect on gene expression for the GWAS variant. In select cases in which the target gene was a transcription factor or microRNA, we also investigated the gene-regulatory networks altered upon CRE perturbation and how these networks differ across blood cell types. RESULTS We inhibited candidate CREs from fine-mapped blood trait GWAS variants (from ~750,000 individual of diverse ancestries) in human erythroid progenitors. In total, we targeted 543 variants (254 loci) mapping to candidate CREs, generating multimodal single-cell data including transcriptome, direct CRISPR gRNA capture, and cell surface proteins. We identified target genes in cis (within 500 kb) for 134 CREs. In most cases, we found that the target gene was the closest gene and that specific enhancer-associated biochemical hallmarks (H3K27ac and accessible chromatin) are essential for CRE function. Using multiple perturbations at the same locus, we were able to distinguished between causal variants from noncausal variants in linkage disequilibrium. For a subset of validated CREs, we also inserted specific GWAS variants using base-editing STING-seq (beeSTING-seq) and quantified the effect size and direction of GWAS variants on gene expression. Given our transcriptome-wide data, we examined dosage effects in cis and trans in cases in which the cis target is a transcription factor or microRNA. We found that trans target genes are also enriched for GWAS loci, and identified gene clusters within trans gene networks with distinct biological functions and expression patterns in primary human blood cells. CONCLUSION In this work, we investigated noncoding GWAS variants at scale, identifying target genes in single cells. These methods can help to address the variant-to-function challenges that are a barrier for translation of GWAS findings (e.g., drug targets for diseases with a genetic basis) and greatly expand our ability to understand mechanisms underlying GWAS loci. Identifying causal variants and their target genes with STING-seq. Uncovering causal variants and their target genes or function are a major challenge for GWASs. STING-seq combines perturbation of noncoding loci with multimodal single-cell sequencing to profile hundreds of GWAS loci in parallel. This approach can identify target genes in cis and trans , measure dosage effects, and decipher gene-regulatory networks.more » « less
Comparative genomics sequence data is an important source of information for interpreting genomes. Genome-wide annotations based on this data have largely focused on univariate scores or binary elements of evolutionary constraint. Here we present a complementary whole genome annotation approach, ConsHMM, which applies a multivariate hidden Markov model to learn de novo ‘conservation states’ based on the combinatorial and spatial patterns of which species align to and match a reference genome in a multiple species DNA sequence alignment. We applied ConsHMM to a 100-way vertebrate sequence alignment to annotate the human genome at single nucleotide resolution into 100 conservation states. These states have distinct enrichments for other genomic information including gene annotations, chromatin states, repeat families, and bases prioritized by various variant prioritization scores. Constrained elements have distinct heritability partitioning enrichments depending on their conservation state assignment. ConsHMM conservation states are a resource for analyzing genomes and genetic variants.