Jon Houseley

Research Summary

We study the mechanisms by which cells learn to thrive in new environments.
From yeast caught by the wind and scattered across the landscape or plankton dwelling in increasingly acidified oceans to malignant cells facing modern targeted anticancer drugs, cells often face a stark choice – adapt or die.
We study the mechanisms by which cells adapt to new environments. A major focus is the unexpected ability of cells to change specific parts of their genomes in response to particular environments. The ability to stimulate mutation at the right time and place is likely to allow organisms to evolve and adapt much faster than we might expect, and such mechanisms have clear medical importance.
Attempting adaptive change is dangerous for any organism, and must be tightly controlled within the life cycle. We are starting to discover connections between adaptation and ageing; we have found that cellular ageing can facilitate adaptation, and conversely we see evidence that the drive to adapt to the environment seems to impact the ageing process.
Jon is a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow.

Latest Publications

Genome-wide analysis of DNA replication and DNA double-strand breaks using TrAEL-seq.
Kara N, Krueger F, Rugg-Gunn P, Houseley J

Faithful replication of the entire genome requires replication forks to copy large contiguous tracts of DNA, and sites of persistent replication fork stalling present a major threat to genome stability. Understanding the distribution of sites at which replication forks stall, and the ensuing fork processing events, requires genome-wide methods that profile replication fork position and the formation of recombinogenic DNA ends. Here, we describe Transferase-Activated End Ligation sequencing (TrAEL-seq), a method that captures single-stranded DNA 3' ends genome-wide and with base pair resolution. TrAEL-seq labels both DNA breaks and replication forks, providing genome-wide maps of replication fork progression and fork stalling sites in yeast and mammalian cells. Replication maps are similar to those obtained by Okazaki fragment sequencing; however, TrAEL-seq is performed on asynchronous populations of wild-type cells without incorporation of labels, cell sorting, or biochemical purification of replication intermediates, rendering TrAEL-seq far simpler and more widely applicable than existing replication fork direction profiling methods. The specificity of TrAEL-seq for DNA 3' ends also allows accurate detection of double-strand break sites after the initiation of DNA end resection, which we demonstrate by genome-wide mapping of meiotic double-strand break hotspots in a dmc1Δ mutant that is competent for end resection but not strand invasion. Overall, TrAEL-seq provides a flexible and robust methodology with high sensitivity and resolution for studying DNA replication and repair, which will be of significant use in determining mechanisms of genome instability.

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PLoS biology, 19, 3, 24 Mar 2021

PMID: 33760805

Glyoxal fixation facilitates transcriptome analysis after antigen staining and cell sorting by flow cytometry.
Channathodiyil P, Houseley J

A simple method for extraction of high quality RNA from cells that have been fixed, stained and sorted by flow cytometry would allow routine transcriptome analysis of highly purified cell populations and single cells. However, formaldehyde fixation impairs RNA extraction and inhibits RNA amplification. Here we show that good quality RNA can be readily extracted from stained and sorted mammalian cells if formaldehyde is replaced by glyoxal-a well-characterised fixative that is widely compatible with immunofluorescent staining methods. Although both formaldehyde and glyoxal efficiently form protein-protein crosslinks, glyoxal does not crosslink RNA to proteins nor form stable RNA adducts, ensuring that RNA remains accessible and amenable to enzymatic manipulation after glyoxal fixation. We find that RNA integrity is maintained through glyoxal fixation, permeabilisation with methanol or saponin, indirect immunofluorescent staining and flow sorting. RNA can then be extracted by standard methods and processed into RNA-seq libraries using commercial kits; mRNA abundances measured by poly(A)+ RNA-seq correlate well between freshly harvested cells and fixed, stained and sorted cells. We validate the applicability of this approach to flow cytometry by staining MCF-7 cells for the intracellular G2/M-specific antigen cyclin B1 (CCNB1), and show strong enrichment for G2/M-phase cells based on transcriptomic data. Switching to glyoxal fixation with RNA-compatible staining methods requires only minor adjustments of most existing staining and sorting protocols, and should facilitate routine transcriptomic analysis of sorted cells.

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PloS one, 16, 1, 2021

PMID: 33481798

Replicative aging is associated with loss of genetic heterogeneity from extrachromosomal circular DNA in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Prada-Luengo I, Møller HD, Henriksen RA, Gao Q, Larsen CE, Alizadeh S, Maretty L, Houseley J, Regenberg B

Circular DNA can arise from all parts of eukaryotic chromosomes. In yeast, circular ribosomal DNA (rDNA) accumulates dramatically as cells age, however little is known about the accumulation of other chromosome-derived circles or the contribution of such circles to genetic variation in aged cells. We profiled circular DNA in Saccharomyces cerevisiae populations sampled when young and after extensive aging. Young cells possessed highly diverse circular DNA populations but 94% of the circular DNA were lost after ∼15 divisions, whereas rDNA circles underwent massive accumulation to >95% of circular DNA. Circles present in both young and old cells were characterized by replication origins including circles from unique regions of the genome and repetitive regions: rDNA and telomeric Y' regions. We further observed that circles can have flexible inheritance patterns: [HXT6/7circle] normally segregates to mother cells but in low glucose is present in up to 50% of cells, the majority of which must have inherited this circle from their mother. Interestingly, [HXT6/7circle] cells are eventually replaced by cells carrying stable chromosomal HXT6 HXT6/7 HXT7 amplifications, suggesting circular DNAs are intermediates in chromosomal amplifications. In conclusion, the heterogeneity of circular DNA offers flexibility in adaptation, but this heterogeneity is remarkably diminished with age.

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Nucleic acids research, 1, 1, 01 Jul 2020

PMID: 32609810