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The Agassiz’s Desert Tortoise Genome Provides a Resource for the Conservation of a Threatened Species

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Agassiz’s desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is a long-lived species native to the Mojave Desert and is listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act. To aid conservation efforts for preserving the genetic diversity of this species, we generated a

Agassiz’s desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is a long-lived species native to the Mojave Desert and is listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act. To aid conservation efforts for preserving the genetic diversity of this species, we generated a whole genome reference sequence with an annotation based on deep transcriptome sequences of adult skeletal muscle, lung, brain, and blood. The draft genome assembly for G. agassizii has a scaffold N50 length of 252 kbp and a total length of 2.4 Gbp. Genome annotation reveals 20,172 protein-coding genes in the G. agassizii assembly, and that gene structure is more similar to chicken than other turtles. We provide a series of comparative analyses demonstrating (1) that turtles are among the slowest-evolving genome-enabled reptiles, (2) amino acid changes in genes controlling desert tortoise traits such as shell development, longevity and osmoregulation, and (3) fixed variants across the Gopherus species complex in genes related to desert adaptations, including circadian rhythm and innate immune response. This G. agassizii genome reference and annotation is the first such resource for any tortoise, and will serve as a foundation for future analysis of the genetic basis of adaptations to the desert environment, allow for investigation into genomic factors affecting tortoise health, disease and longevity, and serve as a valuable resource for additional studies in this species complex.

Data Availability: All genomic and transcriptomic sequence files are available from the NIH-NCBI BioProject database (accession numbers PRJNA352725, PRJNA352726, and PRJNA281763). All genome assembly, transcriptome assembly, predicted protein, transcript, genome annotation, repeatmasker, phylogenetic trees, .vcf and GO enrichment files are available on Harvard Dataverse (doi:10.7910/DVN/EH2S9K).

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Date Created
2017-05-31

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A Histological Analysis of Cell Proliferation Patterns in the Regenerating Tail of the Lizard, Anolis carolinensis

Description

While a number of vertebrates, including fishes, salamanders, frogs, and lizards, display regenerative capacity, the process is not necessarily the same. It has been proposed that regeneration, while evolutionarily conserved, has diverged during evolution. However, the extent to which the

While a number of vertebrates, including fishes, salamanders, frogs, and lizards, display regenerative capacity, the process is not necessarily the same. It has been proposed that regeneration, while evolutionarily conserved, has diverged during evolution. However, the extent to which the mechanisms of regeneration have changed between taxa still remains elusive. In the salamander limb, cells dedifferentiate to a more plastic state and aggregate in the distal portion of the appendage to form a blastema, which is responsible for outgrowth and tissue development. In contrast, no such mechanism has been identified in lizards, and it is unclear to what extent evolutionary divergence between amniotes and anamniotes has altered this mechanism. Anolis carolinensis lizards are capable of regenerating their tails after stress-induced autotomy or self-amputation. In this investigation, the distribution of proliferating cells in early A. carolinensis tail regeneration was visualized by immunohistochemistry to examine the location and quantity of proliferating cells. An aggregate of proliferating cells at the distal region of the regenerate is considered indicative of blastema formation. Proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) and minichromosome maintenance complex component 2 (MCM2) were utilized as proliferation markers. Positive cells were counted for each tail (n=9, n=8 respectively). The percent of proliferating cells at the tip and base of the regenerating tail were compared with a one-way ANOVA statistical test. Both markers showed no significant difference (P=0.585, P=0.603 respectively) indicating absence of a blastema-like structure. These results suggest an alternative mechanism of regeneration in lizards and potentially other amniotes.

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Date Created
2014-05

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Regulation of satellite cells during skeletal muscle repair and regeneration

Description

Postnatal skeletal muscle repair is dependent on the tight regulation of an adult stem cell population known as satellite cells. In response to injury, these quiescent cells are activated, proliferate and express skeletal muscle-specific genes. The majority of satellite cells

Postnatal skeletal muscle repair is dependent on the tight regulation of an adult stem cell population known as satellite cells. In response to injury, these quiescent cells are activated, proliferate and express skeletal muscle-specific genes. The majority of satellite cells will fuse to damaged fibers or form new muscle fibers, while a subset will return to a quiescent state, where they are available for future rounds of repair. Robust muscle repair is dependent on the signals that regulate the mutually exclusive decisions of differentiation and self-renewal. A likely candidate for regulating this process is NUMB, an inhibitor of Notch signaling pathway that has been shown to asymmetrically localize in daughter cells undergoing cell fate decisions. In order to study the role of this protein in muscle repair, an inducible knockout of Numb was made in mice. Numb deficient muscle had a defective repair response to acute induced damage as characterized by smaller myofibers, increased collagen deposition and infiltration of fibrotic cells. Satellite cells isolated from Numb-deficient mice show decreased proliferation rates. Subsequent analyses of gene expression demonstrated that these cells had an aberrantly up-regulated Myostatin (Mstn), an inhibitor of myoblast proliferation. Further, this defect could be rescued with Mstn specific siRNAs. These data indicate that NUMB is necessary for postnatal muscle repair and early proliferative expansion of satellite cells. We used an evolutionary compatible to examine processes controlling satellite cell fate decisions, primary satellite cell lines were generated from Anolis carolinensis. This green anole lizard is evolutionarily the closet animal to mammals that forms de novo muscle tissue while undergoing tail regeneration. The mechanism of regeneration in anoles and the sources of stem cells for skeletal muscle, cartilage and nerves are poorly understood. Thus, satellite cells were isolated from A. carolinensis and analyzed for their plasticity. Anole satellite cells show increased plasticity as compared to mouse as determined by expression of key markers specific for bone and cartilage without administration of exogenous morphogens. These novel data suggest that satellite cells might contribute to more than muscle in tail regeneration of A. carolinensis.

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Created

Date Created
2012

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A novel role for lunatic fringe in the development of epaxial musculature

Description

Skeletal muscles arise from the myotome compartment of the somites that form during vertebrate embryonic development. Somites are transient structures serve as the anlagen for the axial skeleton, skeletal muscle, tendons, and dermis, as well as imposing the metameric patterning

Skeletal muscles arise from the myotome compartment of the somites that form during vertebrate embryonic development. Somites are transient structures serve as the anlagen for the axial skeleton, skeletal muscle, tendons, and dermis, as well as imposing the metameric patterning of the axial musculoskeletal system, peripheral nerves, and vasculature. Classic studies have described the role of Notch, Wnt, and FGF signaling pathways in controlling somite formation and muscle formation. However, little is known about the transformation of myotome compartments into identifiable post-natal muscle groups. Using a mouse model, I have undertaken an evaluation of morphological events, including hypertrophy and hyperplasia, related to the formation of several muscles positioned along the dorsal surface of the vertebrae and ribs. Lunatic fringe (Lfng) deficient embryos and neonates were also examined to further understand the role of the Notch pathway in these processes as it is a modulator of the Notch receptor and plays an important role in defining somite borders and anterior-posterior patterning in many vertebrates. Lunatic fringe deficient embryos showed defects in muscle fiber hyperplasia and hypertrophy in the iliocostalis and longissimus muscles of the erector spinae group. This novel data suggests an additional role for Lfng and the Notch signaling pathway in embryonic and fetal muscle development.

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Date Created
2012

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Insights towards developing regenerative therapies: the lizard, Anolis carolinensis, as a genetic model for regeneration in amniotes

Description

Damage to the central nervous system due to spinal cord or traumatic brain injury, as well as degenerative musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis, drastically impact the quality of life. Regeneration of complex structures is quite limited in mammals, though other

Damage to the central nervous system due to spinal cord or traumatic brain injury, as well as degenerative musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis, drastically impact the quality of life. Regeneration of complex structures is quite limited in mammals, though other vertebrates possess this ability. Lizards are the most closely related organism to humans that can regenerate de novo skeletal muscle, hyaline cartilage, spinal cord, vasculature, and skin. Progress in studying the cellular and molecular mechanisms of lizard regeneration has previously been limited by a lack of genomic resources. Building on the release of the genome of the green anole, Anolis carolinensis, we developed a second generation, robust RNA-Seq-based genome annotation, and performed the first transcriptomic analysis of tail regeneration in this species. In order to investigate gene expression in regenerating tissue, we performed whole transcriptome and microRNA transcriptome analysis of regenerating tail tip and base and associated tissues, identifying key genetic targets in the regenerative process. These studies have identified components of a genetic program for regeneration in the lizard that includes both developmental and adult repair mechanisms shared with mammals, indicating value in the translation of these findings to future regenerative therapies.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
2015

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Proximate and ultimate mechanisms of nestmate recognition in ants

Description

The most abundantly studied societies, with the exception of humans, are those of the eusocial insects, which include all ants. Eusocial insect societies are typically composed of many dozens to millions of individuals, referred to as nestmates, which require some

The most abundantly studied societies, with the exception of humans, are those of the eusocial insects, which include all ants. Eusocial insect societies are typically composed of many dozens to millions of individuals, referred to as nestmates, which require some form of communication to maintain colony cohesion and coordinate the activities within them. Nestmate recognition is the process of distinguishing between nestmates and non-nestmates, and embodies the first line of defense for social insect colonies. In ants, nestmate recognition is widely thought to occur through olfactory cues found on the exterior surfaces of individuals. These cues, called cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs), comprise the overwhelming majority of ant nestmate profiles and help maintain colony identity. In this dissertation, I investigate how nestmate recognition is influenced by evolutionary, ontogenetic, and environmental factors. First, I contributed to the sequencing and description of three ant genomes including the red harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus, presented in detail here. Next, I studied how variation in nestmate cues may be shaped through evolution by comparatively studying a family of genes involved in fatty acid and hydrocarbon biosynthesis, i.e., the acyl-CoA desaturases, across seven ant species in comparison with other social and solitary insects. Then, I tested how genetic, developmental, and social factors influence CHC profile variation in P. barbatus, through a three-part study. (1) I conducted a descriptive, correlative study of desaturase gene expression and CHC variation in P. barbatus workers and queens; (2) I explored how larger-scale genetic variation in the P. barbatus species complex influences CHC variation across two genetically isolated lineages (J1/J2 genetic caste determining lineages); and (3) I experimentally examined how CHC development is influenced by an individual’s social environment. In the final part of my work, I resolved discrepancies between previous findings of nestmate recognition behavior in P. barbatus by studying how factors of territorial experience, i.e., spatiotemporal relationships, affect aggressive behaviors among red harvester ant colonies. Through this research, I was able to identify promising methodological approaches and candidate genes, which both broadens our understanding of P. barbatus nestmate recognition systems and supports future functional genetic studies of CHCs in ants.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
2016

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Using Molecular, Cellular and Bioengineering Approaches Towards Understanding Muscle Stem Cell Biology

Description

Satellite cells are adult muscle stem cells that activate, proliferate, and differentiate into myofibers upon muscle damage. Satellite cells can be cultured and manipulated in vitro, and thus represent an accessible model for studying skeletal muscle biology, and a potential

Satellite cells are adult muscle stem cells that activate, proliferate, and differentiate into myofibers upon muscle damage. Satellite cells can be cultured and manipulated in vitro, and thus represent an accessible model for studying skeletal muscle biology, and a potential source of autologous stem cells for regenerative medicine. This work summarizes efforts to further understanding of satellite cell biology, using novel model organisms, bioengineering, and molecular and cellular approaches. Lizards are evolutionarily the closest vertebrates to humans that regenerate entire appendages. An analysis of lizard myoprogenitor cell transcriptome determined they were most transcriptionally similar to mammalian satellite cells. Further examination showed that among genes with the highest level of expression in lizard satellite cells were an increased number of regulators of chondrogenesis. In micromass culture, lizard satellite cells formed nodules that expressed chondrogenic regulatory genes, thus demonstrating increased musculoskeletal plasticity. However, to exploit satellite cells for therapeutics, development of an ex vivo culture is necessary. This work investigates whether substrates composed of extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins, as either coatings or hydrogels, can support expansion of this population whilst maintaining their myogenic potency. Stiffer substrates are necessary for in vitro proliferation and differentiation of satellite cells, while the ECM composition was not significantly important. Additionally, satellite cells on hydrogels entered a quiescent state that could be reversed when the cells were subsequently cultured on Matrigel. Proliferation and gene expression data further indicated that C2C12 cells are not a good proxy for satellite cells. To further understand how different signaling pathways control satellite cell behavior, an investigation of the Notch inhibitor protein Numb was carried out. Numb deficient satellite cells fail to activate, proliferate and participate in muscle repair. Examination of Numb isoform expression in satellite cells and embryonic tissues revealed that while developing limb bud, neural tube, and heart express the long and short isoforms of NUMB, satellite cells predominantly express the short isoforms. A preliminary immunoprecipitation- proteomics experiment suggested that the roles of NUMB in satellite cells are related to cell cycle modulation, cytoskeleton dynamics, and regulation of transcription factors necessary for satellite cell function.

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Agent

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Date Created
2020

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Methods for Detecting Mutations in Non-model Organisms

Description

Next-generation sequencing is a powerful tool for detecting genetic variation. How-ever, it is also error-prone, with error rates that are much larger than mutation rates.
This can make mutation detection difficult; and while increasing sequencing depth
can often help, sequence-specific

Next-generation sequencing is a powerful tool for detecting genetic variation. How-ever, it is also error-prone, with error rates that are much larger than mutation rates.
This can make mutation detection difficult; and while increasing sequencing depth
can often help, sequence-specific errors and other non-random biases cannot be de-
tected by increased depth. The problem of accurate genotyping is exacerbated when
there is not a reference genome or other auxiliary information available.
I explore several methods for sensitively detecting mutations in non-model or-
ganisms using an example Eucalyptus melliodora individual. I use the structure of
the tree to find bounds on its somatic mutation rate and evaluate several algorithms
for variant calling. I find that conventional methods are suitable if the genome of a
close relative can be adapted to the study organism. However, with structured data,
a likelihood framework that is aware of this structure is more accurate. I use the
techniques developed here to evaluate a reference-free variant calling algorithm.
I also use this data to evaluate a k-mer based base quality score recalibrator
(KBBQ), a tool I developed to recalibrate base quality scores attached to sequencing
data. Base quality scores can help detect errors in sequencing reads, but are often
inaccurate. The most popular method for correcting this issue requires a known
set of variant sites, which is unavailable in most cases. I simulate data and show
that errors in this set of variant sites can cause calibration errors. I then show that
KBBQ accurately recalibrates base quality scores while requiring no reference or other
information and performs as well as other methods.
Finally, I use the Eucalyptus data to investigate the impact of quality score calibra-
tion on the quality of output variant calls and show that improved base quality score
calibration increases the sensitivity and reduces the false positive rate of a variant
calling algorithm.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
2020