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  1. Abstract

    A consensus species tree is reconstructed from 11 gene trees for human, bat, and pangolin beta coronaviruses from samples taken early in the pandemic (prior to April 1, 2020). Using coalescent theory, the shallow (short branches relative to the hosts) consensus species tree provides evidence of recent gene flow events between bat and pangolin beta coronaviruses predating the zoonotic transfer to humans. The consensus species tree was also used to reconstruct the ancestral sequence of human SARS-CoV-2, which was 2 nucleotides different from the Wuhan sequence. The time to most recent common ancestor was estimated to be Dec 8, 2019 with a bat origin. Some human, bat, and pangolin coronavirus lineages found in China are phylogenetically distinct, a rare example of a class II phylogeography pattern (Avise et al. in Ann Rev Eco Syst 18:489–422, 1987). The consensus species tree is a product of evolutionary factors, providing evidence of repeated zoonotic transfers between bat and pangolin as a reservoir for future zoonotic transfers to humans.

  2. Millet, Oscar (Ed.)
    System biology relies on holistic biomolecule measurements, and untangling biochemical networks requires time-series metabolomics profiling. With current metabolomic approaches, time-series measurements can be taken for hundreds of metabolic features, which decode underlying metabolic regulation. Such a metabolomic dataset is untargeted with most features unannotated and inaccessible to statistical analysis and computational modeling. The high dimensionality of the metabolic space also causes mechanistic modeling to be rather cumbersome computationally. We implemented a faster exploratory workflow to visualize and extract chemical and biochemical dependencies. Time-series metabolic features (about 300 for each dataset) were extracted by Ridge Tracking-based Extract (RTExtract) on measurements from continuous in vivo monitoring of metabolism by NMR (CIVM-NMR) in Neurospora crassa under different conditions. The metabolic profiles were then smoothed and projected into lower dimensions, enabling a comparison of metabolic trends in the cultures. Next, we expanded incomplete metabolite annotation using a correlation network. Lastly, we uncovered meaningful metabolic clusters by estimating dependencies between smoothed metabolic profiles. We thus sidestepped the processes of time-consuming mechanistic modeling, difficult global optimization, and labor-intensive annotation. Multiple clusters guided insights into central energy metabolism and membrane synthesis. Dense connections with glucose 1-phosphate indicated its central position in metabolism in N . crassa .more »Our approach was benchmarked on simulated random network dynamics and provides a novel exploratory approach to analyzing high-dimensional metabolic dynamics.« less
  3. Frantz, Kyle (Ed.)
    In-person undergraduate research experiences (UREs) promote students’ integration into careers in life science research. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted institutions hosting summer URE programs to offer them remotely, raising questions about whether undergraduates who participate in remote research can experience scientific integration and whether they might perceive doing research less favorably (i.e., not beneficial or too costly). To address these questions, we examined indicators of scientific integration and perceptions of the benefits and costs of doing research among students who participated in remote life science URE programs in Summer 2020. We found that students experienced gains in scientific self-efficacy pre- to post-URE, similar to results reported for in-person UREs. We also found that students experienced gains in scientific identity, graduate and career intentions, and perceptions of the benefits of doing research only if they started their remote UREs at lower levels on these variables. Collectively, students did not change in their perceptions of the costs of doing research despite the challenges of working remotely. Yet students who started with low cost perceptions increased in these perceptions. These findings indicate that remote UREs can support students’ self-efficacy development, but may otherwise be limited in their potential to promote scientific integration.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 1, 2024
  4. Abstract

    We determined the macroscopic limit for phase synchronization of cellular clocks in an artificial tissue created by a “big chamber” microfluidic device to be about 150,000 cells or less. The dimensions of the microfluidic chamber allowed us to calculate an upper limit on the radius of a hypothesized quorum sensing signal molecule of 13.05 nm using a diffusion approximation for signal travel within the device. The use of a second microwell microfluidic device allowed the refinement of the macroscopic limit to a cell density of 2166 cells per fixed area of the device for phase synchronization. The measurement of averages over single cell trajectories in the microwell device supported a deterministic quorum sensing model identified by ensemble methods for clock phase synchronization. A strong inference framework was used to test the communication mechanism in phase synchronization of quorum sensing versus cell-to-cell contact, suggesting support for quorum sensing. Further evidence came from showing phase synchronization was density-dependent.

  5. Abstract

    Neurospora crassa propagates through dissemination of conidia, which develop through specialized structures called conidiophores. Recent work has identified striking variation in conidiophore morphology, using a wild population collection from Louisiana, United States of America to classify 3 distinct phenotypes: Wild-Type, Wrap, and Bulky. Little is known about the impact of these phenotypes on sporulation or germination later in the N. crassa life cycle, or about the genetic variation that underlies them. In this study, we show that conidiophore morphology likely affects colonization capacity of wild N. crassa isolates through both sporulation distance and germination on different carbon sources. We generated and crossed homokaryotic strains belonging to each phenotypic group to more robustly fit a model for and estimate heritability of the complex trait, conidiophore architecture. Our fitted model suggests at least 3 genes and 2 epistatic interactions contribute to conidiophore phenotype, which has an estimated heritability of 0.47. To uncover genes contributing to these phenotypes, we performed RNA-sequencing on mycelia and conidiophores of strains representing each of the 3 phenotypes. Our results show that the Bulky strain had a distinct transcriptional profile from that of Wild-Type and Wrap, exhibiting differential expression patterns in clock-controlled genes (ccgs), the conidiation-specific genemore »con-6, and genes implicated in metabolism and communication. Combined, these results present novel ecological impacts of and differential gene expression underlying natural conidiophore morphological variation, a complex trait that has not yet been thoroughly explored.

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  6. Abstract Background & Aims Cancer metastasis into distant organs is an evolutionarily selective process. A better understanding of the driving forces endowing proliferative plasticity of tumor seeds in distant soils is required to develop and adapt better treatment systems for this lethal stage of the disease. To this end, we aimed to utilize transcript expression profiling features to predict the site-specific metastases of primary tumors and second, to identify the determinants of tissue specific progression. Methods We used statistical machine learning for transcript feature selection to optimize classification and built tree-based classifiers to predict tissue specific sites of metastatic progression. Results We developed a novel machine learning architecture that analyzes 33 types of RNA transcriptome profiles from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) database. Our classifier identifies the tumor type, derives synthetic instances of primary tumors metastasizing to distant organs and classifies the site-specific metastases in 16 types of cancers metastasizing to 12 locations. Conclusions We have demonstrated that site specific metastatic progression is predictable using transcriptomic profiling data from primary tumors and that the overrepresented biological processes in tumors metastasizing to congruent distant loci are highly overlapping. These results indicate site-specific progression was organotropic and core features of biological signalingmore »pathways are identifiable that may describe proliferative plasticity in distant soils.« less
  7. The vegetative life cycle in the model filamentous fungus, Neurospora crassa, relies on the development of conidiophores to produce new spores. Environmental, temporal, and genetic components of conidiophore development have been well characterized; however, little is known about their morphological variation. We explored conidiophore architectural variation in a natural population using a wild population collection of 21 strains from Louisiana, United States of America (USA). Our work reveals three novel architectural phenotypes, Wild Type, Bulky, and Wrap, and shows their maintenance throughout the duration of conidiophore development. Furthermore, we present a novel image-classifier using a convolutional neural network specifically developed to assign conidiophore architectural phenotypes in a high-throughput manner. To estimate an inheritance model for this discrete complex trait, crosses between strains of each phenotype were conducted, and conidiophores of subsequent progeny were characterized using the trained classifier. Our model suggests that conidiophore architecture is controlled by at least two genes and has a heritability of 0.23. Additionally, we quantified the number of conidia produced by each conidiophore type and their dispersion distance, suggesting that conidiophore architectural phenotype may impact N. crassa colonization capacity.
  8. Abstract Motivation Time-series NMR has advanced our knowledge about metabolic dynamics. Before analyzing compounds through modeling or statistical methods, chemical features need to be tracked and quantified. However, because of peak overlap and peak shifting, the available protocols are time consuming at best or even impossible for some regions in NMR spectra. Results We introduce RTExtract (Ridge Tracking based Extract), a computer vision-based algorithm, to quantify time-series NMR spectra. The NMR spectra of multiple time points were formulated as a 3D surface. Candidate points were first filtered using local curvature and optima, then connected into ridges by a greedy algorithm. Interactive steps were implemented to refine results. Among 173 simulated ridges, 115 can be tracked (RMSD < 0.001). For reproducing previous results, RTExtract took less than two hours instead of ∼48 hours, and two instead of seven parameters need tuning. Multiple regions with overlapping and changing chemical shifts are accurately tracked. Availability Source code is freely available within Metabolomics toolbox GitHub repository ( and is implemented in MATLAB and R. Supplementary information Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
  9. Braun, Derek (Ed.)
    The COVID-19 pandemic shut down undergraduate research programs across the United States. A group of 23 colleges, universities, and research institutes hosted remote undergraduate research programs in the life sciences during Summer 2020. Given the unprecedented offering of remote programs, we carried out a study to describe and evaluate them. Using structured templates, we documented how programs were designed and implemented, including who participated. Through focus groups and surveys, we identified programmatic strengths and shortcomings as well as recommendations for improvements from students’ perspectives. Strengths included the quality of mentorship, opportunities for learning and professional development, and a feeling of connection with a larger community. Weaknesses included limited cohort building, challenges with insufficient structure, and issues with technology. Although all programs had one or more activities related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, these topics were largely absent from student reports even though programs coincided with a peak in national consciousness about racial inequities and structural racism. Our results provide evidence for designing remote Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) that are experienced favorably by students. Our results also indicate that remote REUs are sufficiently positive to further investigate their affordances and constraints, including the potential to scale up offerings, withmore »minimal concern about disenfranchising students.« less