November 03, 2017
The Alliance of Genome Resources (the Alliance) announces the release of the Alliance of Genome Resources website 1.0 – providing unified access to comparative genetics and genomics data from the Alliance data resources (www.alliancegenome.org). The focus of the Alliance is to facilitate the use of these data towards better understanding of human biology and disease.
The Alliance brings together the efforts of the major National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)-funded Model Organism Database (MOD) groups, and the Gene Ontology (GO) Consortium, in a synergistic integration of expertly-curated information about the functioning of cellular systems.
The MODs were created in the early days of the Human Genome Project in support of the major experimental models for human biology. The MODs currently included in the Alliance are the Saccharomyces Genome Database (SGD), FlyBase, WormBase, Mouse Genome Database (MGD), Rat Genome Database (RGD), and Zebrafish Information Network (ZFIN). In addition, the Alliance includes the Gene Ontology (GO) Consortium. Now these groups will merge key activities and data representations, coordinating data retrieval and analysis, within a comparative perspective. Other MODs and related resources will be added to the Alliance going forward.
As part of this initial release, Alliance working groups have focused on the ability to easily access pages that summarize details of genes and diseases, with extensive representation of orthology data, and with access to multi-track JBrowse capabilities primarily for visualization of sequence data. Users recover gene details, functional information, and disease associations within a comparative perspective. As the integration of the MOD and GO teams progress with inclusion of additional data, the vision going forward includes the incorporation of other model organism information resources and other bioinformatic nodes within a common data platform, facilitating data recovery, analysis, and integration.
Categories: News and Views
October 03, 2016
Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his groundbreaking work on autophagy in yeast. This is the process whereby cells recycle their worn out parts or where a cell, like Mobius, the snake eating its own tail, eats less essential bits of itself to stay alive during times of starvation. Think Scarlett O’Hara using her drapes as a dress in Gone With the Wind (or Carol Burnett’s hilarious parody).
Like many, many Nobel Prizes in the past, Ohsumi’s work uncovered basic biological properties using a model organism. In this case he used our favorite lab workhorse, the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to piece together the steps involved in the recycling of a cell’s own internal structures.
And like many other basic biological studies, this one has important medical applications. In this case the two most obvious are chemotherapy resistance and amyloid-β aggregation in Alzheimer’s disease, but it isn’t restricted to just these two. For example, a specialized form of autophagy that targets damaged mitochondria, mitophagy, may not be working well in people with Parkinson’s disease.
The key to Ohsumi’s work was finding a way to disrupt this process in yeast so that he could find the important genes underlying autophagy using the awesome power of yeast genetics (#APOYG!). It turns out that this is trickier than it might seem because yeast and their autophagosomes, the little vesicles that surround and encase the bits to be degraded, are very small and so hard to see. In fact, they are so small that there was some question about whether yeast even had this process!
If yeast did, then it would take place in the vacuole, the recycling center in yeast. The equivalent organelle in people is the lysosome.
To see if autophagy happens in yeast, Ohsumi starved yeast that had vacuoles but couldn’t digest anything. The idea was that there would be a buildup of autophagosomes in the vacuole because the yeast would be desperately trying to eat itself but had no way to digest what it ate. He indeed saw that these poor yeast developed huge vacuoles bloated with autophagosomes.
Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi now had the makings of a yeast screen! “All” he had to do was to look for mutants that didn’t form giant vacuoles under these conditions with the logic being that if you knocked out autophagy, you wouldn’t get a buildup of autophagosomes.
The rest, as they say, is history. Ohsumi and his lab managed to tease out the subtleties of this vital cellular process using good old baker’s yeast. What other nuggets of knowledge about ourselves will we pry out of this most useful of eukaryotes? I can’t wait to see what it reveals about us next!
Other Nobel Prizes have been awarded in recent years for work in yeast:
by Barry Starr, Ph.D., Director of Outreach Activities, Stanford Genetics
June 22, 2016
Model Organisms such as yeast, worm, fly, fish, and mouse are key drivers of biological research, providing experimental systems that yield insights into human biology and health. Model Organism Databases (MODs) enable researchers all over the world to uncover basic, conserved biological mechanisms relevant to new medical therapies. These discoveries have been recognized by many Nobel Prizes over the last decades.
NHGRI/NIH has recently advanced a plan in which the MODs will be integrated into a single combined database, along with a 30% reduction in funding for each MOD (see also these Nature and Science news stories). While integration presents advantages, the funding cut will cripple core functions such as high quality literature curation and genome annotation, degrading the utility of the MODs.
Leaders of several Model Organism communities, working with the Genetics Society of America (GSA), have come together to write a Statement of Support for the MODs, and to urge the NIH to revise its proposal. We ask all scientists who value the community-specific nature of the MODs to sign this ‘open letter’. The letter, along with all signatures, will be presented to NIH Director Francis Collins at a GSA-organized meeting on July 14, 2016 during The Allied Genetics Conference in Orlando. We urge you to add your name, and to spread the word to all researchers who value the MODs.
In other words, sign this letter!
October 21, 2014
If you could wave a magic wand and change something about SGD, what would it be? We want to know!
We need your feedback to make SGD even more useful to the biomedical research community. Which features are most important to you and how could they be improved? Which new data, tools, or resources will you need from SGD over the next few years as your research evolves?
We would greatly appreciate your thoughts on how we can serve you better. It will take just a few minutes to take our survey. Click the button below, or access the survey from the button in our website header. Thank you in advance for your time.
Categories: News and Views
July 23, 2014
SGD staff will be attending the GSA Yeast Genetics Meeting in Seattle, July 29 – August 2, 2014 en force! We will be hosting a Workshop, Posters, and an Exhibit Table. The Workshop, “Computational Tools at SGD,” is on Thursday, July 31 at 1:30 PM in Kane Hall, Room 220. We will be discussing our powerful search tool, YeastMine, what’s new in the realm of Strains and Sequences, and new displays in SGD. Bring your questions and comments – we love feedback!
Follow @yeastgenome and #YEAST14 on Twitter for the latest research being presented at YGM.
Find these SGD staff members, as well as those presenting posters, at the Workshop and the Exhibit table:</p?
Thursday, July 31, 1:30 – 3:00 PM
Kane Hall, Room 220
Featured topics: YeastMine (our powerful search tool), Sequences and Strains update, New data displays at SGD
In addition to the Workshop, SGD curators will present 4 posters – please stop by and chat with us.
|Poster||Date & Time||Poster Title||Presenter|
|318C||Friday, August 1
7:30 – 8:30 PM
HUB Grand Ballroom
|Defining the transcriptome of Saccharomyces cerevisiae||
|387C||Friday, August 1
8:30 – 9:30 PM
HUB Grand Ballroom
|Yeast – it simply has a lot to say about human disease||
|411C||Friday, August 1
8:30 – 9:30 PM
HUB Grand Ballroom
|Transcriptional regulation and protein complexes in budding yeast||
|459C||Friday, August 1
8:30 – 9:30 PM
HUB Grand Ballroom
|Staying current and modern: Overhauling an actively-used model organism database website||
SGD will also have an exhibit table at the YGM. Come by to take a spin on our site, receive a prize for taking a survey, learn about various features of the database, and provide us with feedback as to what we can do to improve SGD. Look for us wearing our SuperBud fleece jackets, and feel free to flag any of us down!
June 04, 2014
Dr. Jure Piskur, Professor and Carlsberg Foundation Chair in Molecular Food Microbiology at Lund University, sadly passed away on May 18, 2014. Dr. Piskur worked on yeast early in his scientific career, including postdoctoral research in yeast molecular biology at Carlsberg Brewery. From there, he studied Drosophila genes involved in the metabolism of nucleic acid precursors as well as yeast biodiversity and mitochondrial genetics. Most recently, his research focused on genes involved in the metabolism of nucleic acid precursors and “the evolution and molecular mechanisms which reshaped the modern enzymes and yeast genomes.” Dr. Piskur published many scientific papers, many of them represented in SGD. He was also a FEMS Microbiology Reviews Editor and Yeast Research Editorial Board Member. For more information on Dr. Piskur, please view his Lund University profile page.
Categories: News and Views
February 03, 2014
Congratulations to fellow yeasties Angelika Amon, Charlie Boone, and Robin Wright for winning three of the five annual Genetics Society of America awards for 2014! Just another confirmation that the awesome power of yeast genetics attracts excellent researchers…
Angelika Amon, of MIT and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has been awarded the Genetics Society of America Medal for outstanding contributions to the field of genetics during the past 15 years. Charlie Boone, of the University of Toronto and a longstanding member of SGD’s Scientific Advisory Board, received the Edward Novitski Prize for his extraordinary level of creativity and intellectual ingenuity in solving significant problems in genetics research. Robin Wright, of the University of Minnesota, has been awarded the Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education, which recognizes significant and sustained impact in genetics education. Find full details about the awards and recipients at the GSA website.
Categories: News and Views
January 27, 2014
Have you used SGD’s Web Primer tool? This tool allows you to enter the name of a yeast gene, or any DNA sequence, and design primers for sequencing or PCR. We are planning to redesign this tool and we need to hear from you to make sure that the next version meets your needs. Please let us know how you use the tool and which features are most useful by filling out the Web Primer Survey. We appreciate your feedback!
Categories: News and Views
December 12, 2013
The most interesting board games can’t be played right out of the box. You can admire the board and the game pieces, but before the fun can begin you need to spend some time reading the instructions and understanding the strategy.
Gene Ontology (GO) annotations are a little bit like that. You can get interesting information very quickly by just reading the GO terms on the Locus Summary page of your favorite yeast protein in SGD. But if you look deeper and learn just a little bit more about GO, you’ll find that you can get so much more out of it.
A new article by Judith Blake in PLoS Computational Biology is intended to help you do just that. Dr. Blake very succinctly summarizes the most important points in her article, “Ten Quick Tips for Using the Gene Ontology”.
If you’re a molecular or cell biologist, a geneticist, or a computational biologist (or are studying one of those fields), you’re probably already aware of GO. But still, you may be wondering, “Where did these annotations come from? What do those three-letter acronyms mean? How can this help me in my research?” This short and sweet article is a great place to start getting answers to these questions.
We recommend that everyone devote a few minutes to reading this brief article, even if you think you already understand GO. Based on the most frequent questions that we get from researchers who use GO annotations at SGD, we can distill it even further into these top three points as seen from an SGD perspective.
There are people behind these annotations. GO terms are assigned either by real, live humans called biocurators, or computationally using automated methods (each annotation is marked, so you can easily see which is which). At SGD, biocurators are Ph.D. biologists who read the yeast literature and capture experimental results as GO annotations; SGD biocurators are also involved in developing the structure of the GO. We try our best, but like all human beings, we are not infallible. So if you see an annotation that looks wrong or confusing, or if you think an area of the GO could better represent the biology, please contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) to talk about it. The more expert help we can get, the better the GO and our GO annotations will be.
The details matter. Those three-letter codes that accompany each annotation mean something. Imagine you are deciding how to allocate your lab’s resources and a critical experiment will be based on a particular protein having a particular function. You see a GO annotation for that function and that protein, so you’re good to go! But wait a minute…
Those codes tell you the experimental evidence behind the assignment of a GO term to a gene product. If that annotation has an IDA (Inferred from Direct Assay) evidence code, then the function was shown in an actual experiment, so you probably are good to go. On the other hand, if the annotation has an ISS (Inferred from Sequence Similarity) evidence code, then it was made solely based on resemblance to another protein. This is still valuable information, but you might not want to bet the farm (or the lab) on it.
Dates are very important too. Both the annotations and the GO itself are constantly updated to keep up with new biological knowledge. Because of this, everything related to GO – from a single annotation shown on an SGD GO Details page, to the downloadable files that contain all GO annotations or the ontology itself – is associated with the date it was created. So if you do any analysis using GO annotations it’s important to note the dates of both the annotation and ontology files that you used. This is especially important if you repeat a GO term enrichment for a gene set over time. The results will definitely change, as significant enrichments become more strongly supported while marginally significant enrichments may not be reproduced.
Go deeper. GO is not just a list of terms. GO terms have defined relationships to each other, with some being broader (parent terms) and some more specific (child terms). If you really understand the structure of GO, you’ll be able to make much better use of the annotations.
For example, if you look for gene products in SGD annotated to the GO term “mitochondrion,” you’ll currently find 1055 of them1. Does that mean that there are exactly 1055 proteins or noncoding RNAs known to be in yeast mitochondria? Noooo!
There are more than that, because the term “mitochondrion” has more specific child terms such as “mitochondrial matrix”; some proteins are annotated directly to those terms and not to the parent term. If you had used the original list of proteins annotated to “mitochondrion”, you’d be missing 92 gene products2 that are so well-studied that their precise locations in the organelle are known! The structure of the GO allows you to gather all the gene products annotated to a term and to all its child terms (YeastMine has a template tailored to this kind of query).
As you can tell, there is a lot more to GO annotations than a lot of people think. And as you dig deeper, you begin to be able to use them in ever more sophisticated ways. Sort of like the natural progression with a strategy board game like Settlers of Catan. At first, even after reading the instructions, you are just trying to work through the game. But as you play more and more, you quickly learn where to build your roads, which islands to colonize and so much more. So get out there and master GO. You’ll be glad you did.
1As of December 2013, using YeastMine template “GO Term -> All genes” (includes Manually curated and High-throughput annotation types).
2As of December 2013, using YeastMine template “GO Term Name [and children of this term] -> All genes” (filtered to exclude Computational annotation type so that only Manually curated and High-throughput annotation types are included).
by Maria Costanzo, Ph.D., Senior Biocurator, SGD
Categories: News and Views
November 25, 2013
Stanford offers an innovative class, targeted at sophomore undergraduates, where students use yeast to determine how a mutation in the p53 gene affects the activity of the resulting p53 protein. What makes this class even cooler is that the p53 mutants come from actual human tumors—the undergraduates are figuring out what actual cancer mutations are doing! And the class uses what we think is the most important organism in the world, S. cerevisiae.
To learn more about the course, we decided to interview Jamie Imam, one of the instructors. After reading the interview, you will almost certainly be as excited about this class as we were and it may even get you to wishing that you could teach the class at your institution. With a little help, you can.
The creators of the course, Tim Stearns and Martha Cyert, really want as many people as possible to use this class to teach undergraduates about what real science is and how fun and exciting it can be. To that end, they are happy to help you replicate the course wherever you are. If you are interested, please contact Tim and/or Martha. You’ll be happy you did. Their contact information can be found at the Stearns lab and Cyert lab websites.
Here now is the interview with Jamie. What a great way to get undergraduates excited about the scientific process.
Sure. Bio44X is designed to be similar to an authentic research experience or as close to one as you can replicate in the classroom. During the quarter, students study mutant versions of a gene called p53, a tumor suppressor that is frequently mutated in cancer. Each partner pair in a classroom gets one p53 mutant that has been identified in a human tumor to study in our yeast system. Throughout the course of the 10 weeks, the students study the transactivation ability of their mutant compared to the wild-type version, and then work to figure out what exactly is wrong with the mutant (Can it bind DNA?, Does it localize to the nucleus properly?, etc.). Multiple sections of this course are taught during the Fall and Winter quarters, so several pairs end up studying the same mutant. We bring these students together to discuss and combine their data throughout the quarter, so there is a lot of collaboration involved. I think the students really enjoy having one topic to study in depth over the quarter rather than short individual modules, and the fact that we are studying a gene so important in cancer makes it easier to get them to care about the work they are doing.
Previously, Bio44X at Stanford was the more traditional “cookbook” type lab course. Every 2 weeks, the topic would change and students would work through set protocols that had a known correct answer. In 2010, Professors Martha Cyert and Tim Stearns set out to design and pilot a research-based course on a medically relevant topic (the tumor suppressor p53) in response to some national calls for biology lab course reform. Two years and many changes later, the new research-based lab course replaced the previous version and is now taken by all of the students that need an introductory lab course in Biology.
Students get exposed to a variety of lab techniques that can be used beyond our classroom. We start with sterile technique and pipetting during the very first week (some students have never pipetted before!). During the first class, the students also spot out some yeast strains so they can start collecting data on the transactivation ability of their p53 mutant right away. Once they have some basic information about the function of their mutant, the students then extract protein from their yeast strains. Throughout the rest of the quarter, students use this protein to conduct a kinetic assay, Western blot, and assess DNA binding ability of their mutant p53. They also get some exposure to fluorescence microscopy when they use a GFP-tagged version of their mutant to determine whether it can localize properly to the nucleus. But the most important thing of all is that students learn how to analyze the data and think critically about it. Not only do they “crunch the numbers” but they must use that information to draw some actual conclusions about what is wrong with their mutant by the end of the quarter.
It takes a lot of organization because we have around 200 or more students that take this class every year! Fortunately, we have a great team to help organize the setup of the labs so that the instructors can focus on the teaching. Nicole Bradon manages a small staff that sets up the classrooms and prepares all of the reagents for the lab each week. Dr. Daria Hekmat-Scafe, who is one of the instructors, constructs many of the yeast strains that we give to the students. The team of lecturers (Dr. Shyamala Malladi, Dr. Daria Hekmat-Scafe and I) all work together on lectures and other course materials so everyone gets a similar experience. All together, it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work, but then the students really get to focus on the experiments and their results.
I love teaching this class! It is so fun to go through this research experience with so many students and they all bring their unique perspectives to the course (we get engineers, psych majors, bio majors, econ majors and others). Also, each section has only 20 students so you really get the chance to get to know them over the course of the 10 weeks. Sometimes the experiments don’t work as planned (like real science) but overall it ends up being a great learning experience.
We hope that students learn to think critically and what it really means to “think like a scientist”. Too often, science is boiled down to a series of facts that students are expected to memorize and that isn’t what science really is! Science is all about finding exciting questions and constructing experiments that try and answer those questions. The beauty of a research-based lab course is that students can also feel more in charge of their own learning. We have performed assessments of the class and have found that over the course of the quarter, students develop a more sophisticated understanding of what it means to “think like a scientist” and a large portion are more interested in becoming involved in scientific research. I think this is great, as I feel that undergraduate research helped me understand science so much more deeply than many of the courses I had taken.
Our group is willing to share our course materials and knowledge with others that are interested in replicating this at other institutions. Anyone who is interested should feel free to contact us! Also, there is a paper in preparation that will describe some of the key aspects of the course as well as more details about what we have learned from the assessments of the course over the past few years.
There you have it…a great class that uses the awesomeness of yeast to teach undergraduates how to think like scientists. Again, if you’re interested in learning more, please contact Tim Stearns and/or Martha Cyert at Stanford.
by D. Barry Starr, Ph.D., Director of Outreach Activities, Stanford Genetics
Categories: News and Views