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Science Looks at Beneficial Genetic Variants in the Melanesian Population, and More

Modern-day Melanesians — the indigenous inhabitants of the Melanesia region in Oceania — carry beneficial genetic variants inherited from archaic Neanderthal and Denisovan hominins, according to a new study appearing in Science. While it is known that human ancestors interbred with archaic hominins, the influence of genetic exchange between these groups on human adaptation and evolution is not clear. A team led by researchers from the University of Washington shows that stratified copy number variants (CNVs) are significantly associated with signatures of positive selection in Melanesians and provide evidence for adaptive introgression of large CNVs at two specific chromosomes from Denisovans and Neanderthals. Using long-read DNA sequence data, the scientists further demonstrate that these polymorphisms encode positively selected genes not found in most human populations. The findings suggest that large CNVs originating in archaic hominins and introgressed into modern humans have played an important role in local population adaptation, warranting further study, they write.

Technological advances in genome design, DNA synthesis, genome editing, and chromosome construction are needed over the next decade in order to realize the full potential of synthetic genomics, according to members of Genome Project-Write. In a policy piece in Science, the investigators discuss the emerging technologies within these areas, as well as needed improvements to existing methods, that will enable the design and writing of genomes in living cells. They also highlight the importance of government grants, genomic and cancer institutes, and biofoundries to the field, writing that cooperation between the public and private sectors will help "achieve and disseminate ... advances to make an impact in biomedical, pharmaceutical, agricultural, and chemical industries."