Mark Blaxter

The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

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Publications (237)1549.75 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: An RNA-seq experiment with 48 biological replicates in each of 2 conditions was performed to determine the number of biological replicates (n_r) required, and to identify the most effective statistical analysis tools for identifying differential gene expression (DGE). When n_r=3, seven of the nine tools evaluated give true positive rates (TPR) of only 20 to 40 percent. For high fold-change genes (|log2(FC)|>2) the TPR is >85 percent. Two tools performed poorly; over- or under-predicting the number of differentially expressed genes. Increasing replication gives a large increase in TPR when considering all DE genes but only a small increase for high fold-change genes. Achieving a TPR >85% across all fold-changes requires n_r>20. For future RNA-seq experiments these results suggest n_r>6, rising to n_r>12 when identifying DGE irrespective of fold-change is important. For n_r>12, superior TPR makes edgeR the leading tool tested. For n_r≥12, minimizing false positives is more important and DESeq outperforms the other tools. (http://arxiv.org/abs/1505.02017)
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    ABSTRACT: An RNA-seq experiment with 48 biological replicates in each of 2 conditions was performed to determine the number of biological replicates ($n_r$) required, and to identify the most effective statistical analysis tools for identifying differential gene expression (DGE). When $n_r=3$, seven of the nine tools evaluated give true positive rates (TPR) of only 20 to 40 percent. For high fold-change genes ($|log_{2}(FC)|\gt2$) the TPR is $\gt85$ percent. Two tools performed poorly; over- or under-predicting the number of differentially expressed genes. Increasing replication gives a large increase in TPR when considering all DE genes but only a small increase for high fold-change genes. Achieving a TPR $\gt85$% across all fold-changes requires $n_r\gt20$. For future RNA-seq experiments these results suggest $n_r\gt6$, rising to $n_r\gt12$ when identifying DGE irrespective of fold-change is important. For $n_r\gt12$, superior TPR makes edgeR the leading tool tested. For $n_r \ge12$, minimizing false positives is more important and DESeq outperforms the other tools.
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    ABSTRACT: High-throughput RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) is now the standard method to determine differential gene expression. Identifying differentially expressed genes crucially depends on estimates of read count variability. These estimates are typically based on statistical models such as the negative binomial distribution, which is employed by the tools edgeR, DESeq and cuffdiff. Until now, the validity of these models has usually been tested on either low-replicate RNA-seq data or simulations. A 48-replicate RNA-seq experiment in yeast was performed and data tested against theoretical models. The observed gene read counts were consistent with both log-normal and negative binomial distributions, while the mean-variance relation followed the line of constant dispersion parameter of ~0.01. The high-replicate data also allowed for strict quality control and screening of bad replicates, which can drastically affect the gene read-count distribution. RNA-seq data have been submitted to ENA archive with project ID PRJEB5348.
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    ABSTRACT: Abstract Background The shift from solitary to social behavior is one of the major evolutionary transitions. Primitively eusocial bumblebees are uniquely placed to illuminate the evolution of highly eusocial insect societies. Bumblebees are also invaluable natural and agricultural pollinators, and there is widespread concern over recent population declines in some species. High- quality genomic data will inform key aspects of bumblebee biology, including susceptibility to implicated population viability threats. Results We report the high quality draft genome sequences of Bombus terrestris and Bombus impatiens, two ecologically dominant bumblebees and widely utilized study species. Comparing these new genomes to those of the highly eusocial honeybee Apis mellifera and other Hymenoptera, we identify deeply conserved similarities, as well as novelties key to the biology of these organisms. Some honeybee genome features thought to underpin advanced eusociality are also present in bumblebees, indicating an earlier evolution in the bee lineage. Xenobiotic detoxification and immune genes are similarly depauperate in bumblebees and honeybees, and multiple categories of genes linked to social organization, including development and behavior, show high conservation. Key differences identified include a bias in bumblebee chemoreception towards gustation from olfaction, and striking differences in microRNAs, potentially responsible for gene regulation underlying social and other traits. Conclusions These two bumblebee genomes provide a foundation for post-genomic research on these key pollinators and insect societies. Overall, gene repertoires suggest that the route to advanced eusociality in bees was mediated by many small changes in many genes and processes, and not by notable expansion or depauperation.
    Genome Biology 04/2015; 16(76). · 10.30 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The shift from solitary to social behavior is one of the major evolutionary transitions. Primitively eusocial bumblebees are uniquely placed to illuminate the evolution of highly eusocial insect societies. Bumblebees are also invaluable natural and agricultural pollinators, and there is widespread concern over recent population declines in some species. Highquality genomic data will inform key aspects of bumblebee biology, including susceptibility to implicated population viability threats. We report the high quality draft genome sequences of Bombus terrestris and Bombus impatiens, two ecologically dominant bumblebees and widely utilized study species. Comparing these new genomes to those of the highly eusocial honeybee Apis mellifera and other Hymenoptera, we identify deeply conserved similarities, as well as novelties key to the biology of these organisms. Some honeybee genome features thought to underpin advanced eusociality are also present in bumblebees, indicating an earlier evolution in the bee lineage. Xenobiotic detoxification and immune genes are similarly depauperate in bumblebees and honeybees, and multiple categories of genes linked to social organization, including development and behavior, show high conservation. Key differences identified include a bias in bumblebee chemoreception towards gustation from olfaction, and striking differences in microRNAs, potentially responsible for gene regulation underlying social and other traits. These two bumblebee genomes provide a foundation for post-genomic research on these key pollinators and insect societies. Overall, gene repertoires suggest that the route to advanced eusociality in bees was mediated by many small changes in many genes and processes, and not by notable expansion or depauperation.
    Genome Biology 04/2015; 16:76. DOI:10.1186/s13059-015-0623-3 · 10.30 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Small RNA pathways act at the front line of defence against transposable elements across the Eukaryota. In animals, Piwi interacting small RNAs (piRNAs) are a crucial arm of this defence. However, the evolutionary relationships among piRNAs and other small RNA pathways targeting transposable elements are poorly resolved. To address this question we sequenced small RNAs from multiple, diverse nematode species, producing the first phylum-wide analysis of how small RNA pathways evolve. Surprisingly, despite their prominence in Caenorhabditis elegans and closely related nematodes, piRNAs are absent in all other nematode lineages. We found that there are at least two evolutionarily distinct mechanisms that compensate for the absence of piRNAs, both involving RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (RdRPs). Whilst one pathway is unique to nematodes, the second involves Dicer-dependent RNA-directed DNA methylation, hitherto unknown in animals, and bears striking similarity to transposon-control mechanisms in fungi and plants. Our results highlight the rapid, context-dependent evolution of small RNA pathways and suggest piRNAs in animals may have replaced an ancient eukaryotic RNA-dependent RNA polymerase pathway to control transposable elements.
    PLoS Biology 02/2015; 13(2):e1002061. DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002061 · 11.77 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Background microRNAs (miRNAs), a class of short, non-coding RNA can be found in a highly stable, cell-free form in mammalian body fluids. Specific miRNAs are secreted by parasitic nematodes in exosomes and have been detected in the serum of murine and dog hosts infected with the filarial nematodes Litomosoides sigmodontis and Dirofilaria immitis, respectively. Here we identify extracellular, parasite-derived small RNAs associated with Onchocerca species infecting cattle and humans. Methods Small RNA libraries were prepared from total RNA extracted from the nodule fluid of cattle infected with Onchocerca ochengi as well as serum and plasma from humans infected with Onchocerca volvulus in Cameroon and Ghana. Parasite-derived miRNAs were identified based on the criteria that sequences unambiguously map to hairpin structures in Onchocerca genomes, do not align to the human genome and are not present in European control serum. Results A total of 62 mature miRNAs from 52 distinct pre-miRNA candidates were identified in nodule fluid from cattle infected with Onchocerca ochengi of which 59 are identical in the genome of the human parasite Onchocerca volvulus. Six of the extracellular miRNAs were also identified in sequencing analyses of serum and plasma from humans infected with O. volvulus. Based on sequencing analysis the abundance levels of the parasite miRNAs in serum or plasma range from 5 to 127 reads/per million total host miRNA reads identified, comparable to our previous analyses of Schistosoma mansoni and L. sigmodontis miRNAs in serum. All six of the O. volvulus miRNAs identified have orthologs in other filarial nematodes and four were identified in the serum of mice infected with L. sigmodontis. Conclusions We have identified parasite-derived miRNAs associated with onchocerciasis in cattle and humans. Our results confirm the conserved nature of RNA secretion by diverse nematodes. Additional species-specific small RNAs from O. volvulus may be present in serum based on the novel miRNA sequences identified in the nodule fluid. In our analyses comparison to European control serum illuminates the scope for false-positives, warranting caution in criteria that should be applied to identification of biomarkers of infection.
    Parasites & Vectors 01/2015; 8:58. DOI:10.1186/s13071-015-0656-1 · 3.25 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Anguillicola crassus is a swim bladder nematode of eels. The parasite is native to the Asian eel Anguilla japonica, but was introduced to Europe and the European eel Anguilla anguilla in the early 1980s. A Taiwanese source has been proposed for this introduction. In the new host in the recipient area, the parasite appears to be more pathogenic. As a reason for these differences, genetically fixed differences in infectivity and development between Taiwanese and European A.crassus have been described and disentangled from plasticity induced by different host environments. To explore whether transcriptional regulation is involved in these lifecycle differences, we have analysed a "common garden", cross infection experiment, using deep-sequencing transcriptomics. Surprisingly, in the face of clear phenotypic differences in life history traits, we identified no significant differences in gene expression between parasite populations or between experimental host species. From 120,000 SNPs identified in the transcriptome data we found that European A. crassus were not a genetic subset of the Taiwanese nematodes sampled. The loci that have the major contribution to the European-Taiwanese population differentiation show an enrichment of synonymous and non-coding polymorphism. This argues against positive selection in population differentiation. However, genes involved in protein processing in the endoplasmatic reticulum membrane and genes bearing secretion signal sequences were enriched in the set of genes most differentiated between European and Taiwanese A. crassus. These genes could be a source for the phenotypically visible genetically fixed differences between European and Taiwanese A. crassus.
    11/2014; 2:e684. DOI:10.7717/peerj.684
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    ABSTRACT: In mammalian systems RNA can move between cells via vesicles. Here we demonstrate that the gastrointestinal nematode Heligmosomoides polygyrus, which infects mice, secretes vesi-cles containing microRNAs (miRNAs) and Y RNAs as well as a nematode Argonaute protein. These vesicles are of intestinal origin and are enriched for homologues of mammalian exo-some proteins. Administration of the nematode exosomes to mice suppresses Type 2 innate responses and eosinophilia induced by the allergen Alternaria. Microarray analysis of mouse cells incubated with nematode exosomes in vitro identifies Il33r and Dusp1 as suppressed genes, and Dusp1 can be repressed by nematode miRNAs based on a reporter assay. We further identify miRNAs from the filarial nematode Litomosoides sigmodontis in the serum of infected mice, suggesting that miRNA secretion into host tissues is conserved among parasitic nematodes. These results reveal exosomes as another mechanism by which helminths manipulate their hosts and provide a mechanistic framework for RNA transfer between animal species.
    Nature Communications 11/2014; 5(5488). DOI:10.1038/ncomms6488 · 10.74 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The Oxford Nanopore MinION device represents a unique sequencing technology. As a mobile sequencing device powered by the USB port of a laptop, the MinION has huge potential applications. To enable these applications, the bioinformatics community will need to design and build a suite of tools specifically for MinION data.
    Bioinformatics 08/2014; DOI:10.1093/bioinformatics/btu590 · 4.62 Impact Factor
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    Mark Blaxter, Georgios Koutsovoulos
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    ABSTRACT: SUMMARY Nematodes are abundant and diverse, and include many parasitic species. Molecular phylogenetic analyses have shown that parasitism of plants and animals has arisen at least 15 times independently. Extant nematode species also display lifestyles that are proposed to be on the evolutionary trajectory to parasitism. Recent advances have permitted the determination of the genomes and transcriptomes of many nematode species. These new data can be used to further resolve the phylogeny of Nematoda, and identify possible genetic patterns associated with parasitism. Plant-parasitic nematode genomes show evidence of horizontal gene transfer from other members of the rhizosphere, and these genes play important roles in the parasite-host interface. Similar horizontal transfer is not evident in animal parasitic groups. Many nematodes have bacterial symbionts that can be essential for survival. Horizontal transfer from symbionts to the nematode is also common, but its biological importance is unclear. Over 100 nematode species are currently targeted for sequencing, and these data will yield important insights into the biology and evolutionary history of parasitism. It is important that these new technologies are also applied to free-living taxa, so that the pre-parasitic ground state can be inferred, and the novelties associated with parasitism isolated.
    Parasitology 06/2014; 142(S1):1-14. DOI:10.1017/S0031182014000791 · 2.35 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Filarial nematodes (superfamily Filarioidea) are responsible for an annual global health burden of approximately 6.3 million disability-adjusted life-years, which represents the greatest single component of morbidity attributable to helminths affecting humans. No vaccine exists for the major filarial diseases, lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis; in part because research on protective immunity against filariae has been constrained by the inability of the human parasitic species to complete their lifecycles in laboratory mice. However, the rodent filaria Litomosoides sigmodontis has become a popular experimental model, as BALB/c mice are fully permissive for its development and reproduction. Here, we provide a comprehensive analysis of excretory-secretory products from L. sigmodontis across five lifecycle stages and identifications of host proteins associated with first-stage larvae (microfilariae) in the blood. Applying intensity-based quantification, we determined the abundance of 302 unique excretory-secretory proteins, of which 64.6% were present in quantifiable amounts only from gravid adult female nematodes. This lifecycle stage, together with immature microfilariae, released four proteins that have not previously been evaluated as vaccine candidates: a predicted 28.5 kDa filaria-specific protein, a zonadhesin and SCO-spondin-like protein, a vitellogenin, and a protein containing six metridin-like ShK toxin domains. Female nematodes also released two proteins derived from the obligate Wolbachia symbiont. Notably, excretory-secretory products from all parasite stages contained several uncharacterised members of the transthyretin-like protein family. Furthermore, biotin labelling revealed that redox proteins and enzymes involved in purinergic signalling were enriched on the adult nematode cuticle. Comparison of the L. sigmodontis adult secretome with that of the human-infective filarial nematode Brugia malayi (reported previously in three independent published studies) identified differences that suggest a considerable underlying diversity of potential immunomodulators. The molecules identified in L. sigmodontis excretory-secretory products show promise not only for vaccination against filarial infections, but for the amelioration of allergy and autoimmune diseases.
    Molecular &amp Cellular Proteomics 06/2014; 13:2527–2544. DOI:10.1074/mcp.M114.038539 · 7.25 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Wolbachia are common endosymbionts of terrestrial arthropods, and are also found in nematodes: the animal-parasitic filaria, and the plant-parasite Radopholus similis. Lateral transfer of Wolbachia DNA to the host genome is common. We generated a draft genome sequence for the strongyloidean nematode parasite Dictyocaulus viviparus, the cattle lungworm. In the assembly, we identified nearly 1 Mb of sequence with similarity to Wolbachia. The fragments were unlikely to derive from a live Wolbachia infection: most were short, and the genes were disabled through inactivating mutations. Many fragments were co-assembled with definitively nematode-derived sequence. We found limited evidence of expression of the Wolbachia-derived genes. The D. viviparus Wolbachia genes were most similar to filarial strains and strains from the host-promiscuous clade F. We conclude that D. viviparus was infected by Wolbachia in the past, and that clade F-like symbionts may have been the source of filarial Wolbachia infections.
    PLoS Genetics 06/2014; 10(6):e1004397. DOI:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004397 · 8.17 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Transposable elements can be categorised into DNA and RNA elements based on their mechanism of transposition. Tyrosine recombinase elements (YREs) are relatively rare and poorly understood, despite sharing characteristics with both DNA and RNA elements. Previously, the Nematoda have been reported to have a substantially different diversity of YREs compared to other animal phyla: the Dirs1-like YRE retrotransposon was encountered in most animal phyla but not in Nematoda, and a unique Pat1-like YRE retrotransposon has only been recorded from Nematoda. We explored the diversity of YREs in Nematoda by sampling broadly across the phylum and including 34 genomes representing the three classes within Nematoda. We developed a method to isolate and classify YREs based on both feature organization and phylogenetic relationships in an open and reproducible workflow. We also ensured that our phylogenetic approach to YRE classification identified truncated and degenerate elements, informatively increasing the number of elements sampled. We identified Dirs1-like elements (thought to be absent from Nematoda) in the nematode classes Enoplia and Dorylaimia indicating that nematode model species do not adequately represent the diversity of transposable elements in the phylum. Nematode Pat1-like elements were found to be a derived form of another PAT element that is present more widely in animals. Several sequence features used widely for the classification of YREs were found to be homoplasious, highlighting the need for a phylogenetically-based classification scheme. Nematode model species do not represent the diversity of transposable elements in the phylum.
    PLoS ONE 04/2014; 9(9). DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0106630 · 3.53 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

11k Citations
1,549.75 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 1996–2015
    • The University of Edinburgh
      • • Institute of Evolutionary Biology
      • • School of Biological Sciences
      • • Ashworth Laboratory
      • • Institute of Cell Biology
      Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
  • 2012
    • University of Liverpool
      • Institute of Integrative Biology
      Liverpool, England, United Kingdom
    • University College London
      • Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment (GEE)
      London, ENG, United Kingdom
  • 2011
    • University of Manitoba
      Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
    • University of Cologne
      • Zoological Institute
      Köln, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
  • 2000–2010
    • University of Nottingham
      • • Centre for Sports Medicine
      • • School of Life Sciences
      Nottingham, ENG, United Kingdom
    • Simon Fraser University
      • Department of Biological Sciences
      Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
  • 2009
    • SickKids
      • Program in Molecular Structure and Function
      Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    • University of Leicester
      • Department of Biochemistry
      Leicester, ENG, United Kingdom
  • 2006
    • University of California, Riverside
      Riverside, California, United States
  • 2005
    • University of Toronto
      • Hospital for Sick Children
      Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 1996–1999
    • University of Antwerp
      Antwerpen, Flanders, Belgium
  • 1990–1995
    • Imperial College London
      • Division of Cell and Molecular Biology
      Londinium, England, United Kingdom
  • 1994
    • University of Otago
      • Department of Biochemistry
      Taieri, Otago, New Zealand
  • 1992
    • Imperial Valley College
      • Department of Biology
      IPL, California, United States
  • 1988–1990
    • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
      • Department of Pathogen Molecular Biology
      Londinium, England, United Kingdom