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  1. Abstract

    Cell division is spatiotemporally precisely regulated, but the underlying mechanisms are incompletely understood. In the social bacteriumMyxococcus xanthus, the PomX/PomY/PomZ proteins form a single megadalton-sized complex that directly positions and stimulates cytokinetic ring formation by the tubulin homolog FtsZ. Here, we study the structure and mechanism of this complex in vitro and in vivo. We demonstrate that PomY forms liquid-like biomolecular condensates by phase separation, while PomX self-assembles into filaments generating a single large cellular structure. The PomX structure enriches PomY, thereby guaranteeing the formation of precisely one PomY condensate per cell through surface-assisted condensation. In vitro, PomY condensates selectively enrich FtsZ and nucleate GTP-dependent FtsZ polymerization and bundle FtsZ filaments, suggesting a cell division site positioning mechanism in which the single PomY condensate enriches FtsZ to guide FtsZ-ring formation and division. This mechanism shares features with microtubule nucleation by biomolecular condensates in eukaryotes, supporting this mechanism’s ancient origin.

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  2. Abstract

    Phase separation of biomolecules into condensates has emerged as a mechanism for intracellular organization and affects many intracellular processes, including reaction pathways through the clustering of enzymes and pathway intermediates. Precise and rapid spatiotemporal control of reactions by condensates requires tuning of their sizes. However, the physical processes that govern the distribution of condensate sizes remain unclear. Here we show that both native and synthetic condensates display an exponential size distribution, which is captured by Monte Carlo simulations of fast nucleation followed by coalescence. In contrast, pathological aggregates exhibit a power-law size distribution. These distinct behaviours reflect the relative importance of nucleation and coalescence kinetics. We demonstrate this by utilizing a combination of synthetic and native condensates to probe the underlying physical mechanisms determining condensate size. The appearance of exponential distributions for abrupt nucleation versus power-law distributions under continuous nucleation may reflect a general principle that determines condensate size distributions.

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  3. Abstract Background

    Repetitive action, resistance to environmental change and fine motor disruptions are hallmarks of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other neurodevelopmental disorders, and vary considerably from individual to individual. In animal models, conventional behavioral phenotyping captures such fine-scale variations incompletely. Here we observed male and female C57BL/6J mice to methodically catalog adaptive movement over multiple days and examined two rodent models of developmental disorders against this dynamic baseline. We then investigated the behavioral consequences of a cerebellum-specific deletion in Tsc1 protein and a whole-brain knockout in Cntnap2 protein in mice. Both of these mutations are found in clinical conditions and have been associated with ASD.


    We used advances in computer vision and deep learning, namely a generalized form of high-dimensional statistical analysis, to develop a framework for characterizing mouse movement on multiple timescales using a single popular behavioral assay, the open-field test. The pipeline takes virtual markers from pose estimation to find behavior clusters and generate wavelet signatures of behavior classes. We measured spatial and temporal habituation to a new environment across minutes and days, different types of self-grooming, locomotion and gait.


    Both Cntnap2 knockouts and L7-Tsc1 mutants showed forelimb lag during gait. L7-Tsc1 mutants and Cntnap2 knockouts showed complex defects in multi-day adaptation, lacking the tendency of wild-type mice to spend progressively more time in corners of the arena. In L7-Tsc1 mutant mice, failure to adapt took the form of maintained ambling, turning and locomotion, and an overall decrease in grooming. However, adaptation in these traits was similar between wild-type mice and Cntnap2 knockouts. L7-Tsc1 mutant and Cntnap2 knockout mouse models showed different patterns of behavioral state occupancy.


    Genetic risk factors for autism are numerous, and we tested only two. Our pipeline was only done under conditions of free behavior. Testing under task or social conditions would reveal more information about behavioral dynamics and variability.


    Our automated pipeline for deep phenotyping successfully captures model-specific deviations in adaptation and movement as well as differences in the detailed structure of behavioral dynamics. The reported deficits indicate that deep phenotyping constitutes a robust set of ASD symptoms that may be considered for implementation in clinical settings as quantitative diagnosis criteria.

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  4. Abstract

    Recent evidence suggests that a polyaneuploid cancer cell (PACC) state may play a key role in the adaptation of cancer cells to stressful environments and in promoting therapeutic resistance. The PACC state allows cancer cells to pause cell division and to avoid DNA damage and programmed cell death. Transition to the PACC state may also lead to an increase in the cancer cell’s ability to generate heritable variation (evolvability). One way this can occur is through evolutionary triage. Under this framework, cells gradually gain resistance by scaling hills on a fitness landscape through a process of mutation and selection. Another way this can happen is through self-genetic modification whereby cells in the PACC state find a viable solution to the stressor and then undergo depolyploidization, passing it on to their heritably resistant progeny. Here, we develop a stochastic model to simulate both of these evolutionary frameworks. We examine the impact of treatment dosage and extent of self-genetic modification on eco-evolutionary dynamics of cancer cells with aneuploid and PACC states. We find that under low doses of therapy, evolutionary triage performs better whereas under high doses of therapy, self-genetic modification is favored. This study generates predictions for teasing apart these biological hypotheses, examines the implications of each in the context of cancer, and provides a modeling framework to compare Mendelian and non-traditional forms of inheritance.

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  5. Abstract

    The desire to understand how the brain generates and patterns behavior has driven rapid methodological innovation in tools to quantify natural animal behavior. While advances in deep learning and computer vision have enabled markerless pose estimation in individual animals, extending these to multiple animals presents unique challenges for studies of social behaviors or animals in their natural environments. Here we present Social LEAP Estimates Animal Poses (SLEAP), a machine learning system for multi-animal pose tracking. This system enables versatile workflows for data labeling, model training and inference on previously unseen data. SLEAP features an accessible graphical user interface, a standardized data model, a reproducible configuration system, over 30 model architectures, two approaches to part grouping and two approaches to identity tracking. We applied SLEAP to seven datasets across flies, bees, mice and gerbils to systematically evaluate each approach and architecture, and we compare it with other existing approaches. SLEAP achieves greater accuracy and speeds of more than 800 frames per second, with latencies of less than 3.5 ms at full 1,024 × 1,024 image resolution. This makes SLEAP usable for real-time applications, which we demonstrate by controlling the behavior of one animal on the basis of the tracking and detection of social interactions with another animal.

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  6. Abstract

    Plasmids are autonomous genetic elements that can be exchanged between microorganisms via horizontal gene transfer (HGT). Despite the central role they play in antibiotic resistance and modern biotechnology, our understanding of plasmids’ natural ecology is limited. Recent experiments have shown that plasmids can spread even when they are a burden to the cell, suggesting that natural plasmids may exist as parasites. Here, we use mathematical modeling to explore the ecology of such parasitic plasmids. We first develop models of single plasmids and find that a plasmid’s population dynamics and optimal infection strategy are strongly determined by the plasmid’s HGT mechanism. We then analyze models of co-infecting plasmids and show that parasitic plasmids are prone to a “tragedy of the commons” in which runaway plasmid invasion severely reduces host fitness. We propose that this tragedy of the commons is averted by selection between competing populations and demonstrate this effect in a metapopulation model. We derive predicted distributions of unique plasmid types in genomes—comparison to the distribution of plasmids in a collection of 17,725 genomes supports a model of parasitic plasmids with positive plasmid–plasmid interactions that ameliorate plasmid fitness costs or promote the invasion of new plasmids.

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  7. Abstract

    The reliable detection of environmental molecules in the presence of noise is an important cellular function, yet the underlying computational mechanisms are not well understood. We introduce a model of two interacting sensors which allows for the principled exploration of signal statistics, cooperation strategies and the role of energy consumption in optimal sensing, quantified through the mutual information between the signal and the sensors. Here we report that in general the optimal sensing strategy depends both on the noise level and the statistics of the signals. For joint, correlated signals, energy consuming (nonequilibrium), asymmetric couplings result in maximum information gain in the low-noise, high-signal-correlation limit. Surprisingly we also find that energy consumption is not always required for optimal sensing. We generalise our model to incorporate time integration of the sensor state by a population of readout molecules, and demonstrate that sensor interaction and energy consumption remain important for optimal sensing.

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  8. Abstract

    Cells possess non-membrane-bound bodies, many of which are now understood as phase-separated condensates. One class of such condensates is composed of two polymer species, where each consists of repeated binding sites that interact in a one-to-one fashion with the binding sites of the other polymer. Biologically-motivated modeling revealed that phase separation is suppressed by a “magic-number effect” which occurs if the two polymers can form fully-bonded small oligomers by virtue of the number of binding sites in one polymer being an integer multiple of the number of binding sites of the other. Here we use lattice-model simulations and analytical calculations to show that this magic-number effect can be greatly enhanced if one of the polymer species has a rigid shape that allows for multiple distinct bonding conformations. Moreover, if one species is rigid, the effect is robust over a much greater range of relative concentrations of the two species.

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  9. Abstract

    Place and grid cells in the hippocampal formation are commonly thought to support a unified and coherent cognitive map of space. This mapping mechanism faces a challenge when a navigator is placed in a familiar environment that has been deformed from its original shape. Under such circumstances, many transformations could plausibly serve to map a navigator's familiar cognitive map to the deformed space. Previous empirical results indicate that the firing fields of rodent place and grid cells stretch or compress in a manner that approximately matches the environmental deformation, and human spatial memory exhibits similar distortions. These effects have been interpreted as evidence that reshaping a familiar environment elicits an analogously reshaped cognitive map. However, recent work has suggested an alternative explanation, whereby deformation‐induced distortions of the grid code are attributable to a mechanism that dynamically anchors grid fields to the most recently experienced boundary, thus causing history‐dependent shifts in grid phase. This interpretation raises the possibility that human spatial memory will exhibit similar history‐dependent dynamics. To test this prediction, we taught participants the locations of objects in a virtual environment and then probed their memory for these locations in deformed versions of this environment. Across three experiments with variable access to visual and vestibular cues, we observed the predicted pattern, whereby the remembered locations of objects were shifted from trial to trial depending on the boundary of origin of the participant's movement trajectory. These results provide evidence for a dynamic anchoring mechanism that governs both neuronal firing and spatial memory.

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  10. Abstract

    The actin-like protein MreB has been proposed to coordinate the synthesis of the cell wall to determine cell shape in bacteria. MreB is preferentially localized to areas of the cell with specific curved geometries, avoiding the cell poles. It remains unclear whether MreB’s curvature preference is regulated by additional factors, and which specific features of MreB promote specific features of rod shape growth. Here, we show that the transmembrane protein RodZ modulates MreB curvature preference and polymer number inE. coli, properties which are regulated independently. An unbiased machine learning analysis shows that MreB polymer number, the total length of MreB polymers, and MreB curvature preference are key correlates of cylindrical uniformity, the variability in radius within a single cell. Changes in the values of these parameters are highly predictive of the resulting changes in cell shape (r2 = 0.93). Our data thus suggest RodZ promotes the assembly of geometrically-localized MreB polymers that lead to the growth of uniform cylinders.

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