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Nature Papers on Genome of Individual From Pompeii, CircRNA Study Best Practices, More

The first sequenced genome of a person who died in Pompeii from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius is published in Scientific Reports this week. Pompeii, which was a major Roman port city in Italy, has been a major archeological site due to the well-preserved nature of both buildings and human remains. Still, genetic investigations there have been hampered, as the high temperatures experienced affected the quality and quantity of recoverable DNA. In the study, a team led by scientists from the University of Rome and the University of California, Irvine were able to recover DNA from a man who died during the eruption and fully sequence his genome. Comparing the genome to DNA from other ancient and modern-day western Eurasian individuals points to high levels of genetic diversity across Italy at the time Mount Vesuvius erupted. Other analyses revealed the presence of ancient DNA from Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the cause of tuberculosis, suggesting that the individual may have had the disease. "Our initial findings provide a foundation to promote an intensive analysis of well-preserved Pompeian individuals," the study's authors write. "Supported by the enormous amount of archaeological information that has been collected in the past century for the city of Pompeii … paleogenetic analyses will help us to reconstruct the lifestyle of this fascinating population of the Imperial Roman period." GenomeWeb has more on this, here.

While research into circular RNAs (circRNAs) continues to rapidly expand following the discovery that these closed non-coding RNAs can accumulate to high levels with tissue- and development-specific expression, there is still a lack of experimental standards around their isolation, analysis, expression, and depletion. Aiming to address this, a team led by researchers from Aarhus University presents this week in Nature Methods a set of best practice guidelines for circRNA studies, with recommendations covering circRNA purification, validation, detection, inhibition, and more. "We invite laboratories across the world to join us in developing the circRNA field further in the coming years and hope that this review can become a reference point for technical guidelines in the field," the authors conclude.

Using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing, scientists from the John Innes Centre have created a tomato that produces high levels of provitamin D3, a precursor to vitamin D3, representing a new approach to addressing a major global health issue. Vitamin D3 prevents a range of deficiency diseases affecting skeletal health, neurocognitive decline, and immune function. While the vitamin can be produced by humans on exposure to sunlight, most is obtained through diet. Yet approximately 1 billion people worldwide suffer from vitamin D deficiency, largely due to inadequate dietary availability. To help overcome this problem, the researchers modified a tomato gene that encodes the enzyme 7-dehydrocholesterol reductase, which normally converts provitamin D3 into cholesterol, blocking this pathway. As reported in Nature Plants this week, the result is a tomato plant that accumulates substantial amounts of provitamin D3 in its leaves and fruit without affecting growth, development, or yield. The provitamin D3 can then be converted to vitamin D3 within the plant upon exposure to ultraviolet B light. The approach, the researchers write, could potentially be applied to other food crops. The Scan also has more on this, here.