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

Description

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

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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  • 2017-05-31

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Genomic diversity and abundance of LINE retrotransposons in 4 anole lizards

Description

Vertebrate genomes demonstrate a remarkable range of sizes from 0.3 to 133 gigabase pairs. The proliferation of repeat elements are a major genomic expansion. In particular, long interspersed nuclear elements

Vertebrate genomes demonstrate a remarkable range of sizes from 0.3 to 133 gigabase pairs. The proliferation of repeat elements are a major genomic expansion. In particular, long interspersed nuclear elements (LINES) are autonomous retrotransposons that have the ability to "cut and paste" themselves into a host genome through a mechanism called target-primed reverse transcription. LINES have been called "junk DNA," "viral DNA," and "selfish" DNA, and were once thought to be parasitic elements. However, LINES, which diversified before the emergence of many early vertebrates, has strongly shaped the evolution of eukaryotic genomes. This thesis will evaluate LINE abundance, diversity and activity in four anole lizards. An intrageneric analysis will be conducted using comparative phylogenetics and bioinformatics. Comparisons within the Anolis genus, which derives from a single lineage of an adaptive radiation, will be conducted to explore the relationship between LINE retrotransposon activity and causal changes in genomic size and composition.

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Date Created
  • 2013

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Methods in the assessment of genotype-phenotype correlations in rare childhood disease through orthogonal multi-omics, high-throughput sequencing approaches

Description

Rapid advancements in genomic technologies have increased our understanding of rare human disease. Generation of multiple types of biological data including genetic variation from genome or exome, expression from transcriptome,

Rapid advancements in genomic technologies have increased our understanding of rare human disease. Generation of multiple types of biological data including genetic variation from genome or exome, expression from transcriptome, methylation patterns from epigenome, protein complexity from proteome and metabolite information from metabolome is feasible. "Omics" tools provide comprehensive view into biological mechanisms that impact disease trait and risk. In spite of available data types and ability to collect them simultaneously from patients, researchers still rely on their independent analysis. Combining information from multiple biological data can reduce missing information, increase confidence in single data findings, and provide a more complete view of genotype-phenotype correlations. Although rare disease genetics has been greatly improved by exome sequencing, a substantial portion of clinical patients remain undiagnosed. Multiple frameworks for integrative analysis of genomic and transcriptomic data are presented with focus on identifying functional genetic variations in patients with undiagnosed, rare childhood conditions. Direct quantitation of X inactivation ratio was developed from genomic and transcriptomic data using allele specific expression and segregation analysis to determine magnitude and inheritance mode of X inactivation. This approach was applied in two families revealing non-random X inactivation in female patients. Expression based analysis of X inactivation showed high correlation with standard clinical assay. These findings improved understanding of molecular mechanisms underlying X-linked disorders. In addition multivariate outlier analysis of gene and exon level data from RNA-seq using Mahalanobis distance, and its integration of distance scores with genomic data found genotype-phenotype correlations in variant prioritization process in 25 families. Mahalanobis distance scores revealed variants with large transcriptional impact in patients. In this dataset, frameshift variants were more likely result in outlier expression signatures than other types of functional variants. Integration of outlier estimates with genetic variants corroborated previously identified, presumed causal variants and highlighted new candidate in previously un-diagnosed case. Integrative genomic approaches in easily attainable tissue will facilitate the search for biomarkers that impact disease trait, uncover pharmacogenomics targets, provide novel insight into molecular underpinnings of un-characterized conditions, and help improve analytical approaches that use large datasets.

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  • 2015

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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

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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Date Created
  • 2015

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The functional evolution of human microRNA families

Description

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short non-coding RNAs that play key roles during metazoan development, and are frequently misregulated in human disease. MiRNAs regulate gene output by targeting degenerate elements primarily in

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short non-coding RNAs that play key roles during metazoan development, and are frequently misregulated in human disease. MiRNAs regulate gene output by targeting degenerate elements primarily in the 3´ untranslated regions of mRNAs. MiRNAs are often deeply conserved, but have undergone drastic expansions in higher metazoans, leading to families of miRNAs with highly similar sequences. The evolutionary advantage of maintaining multiple copies of duplicated miRNAs is not well understood, nor has the distinct functions of miRNA family members been systematically studied. Furthermore, the unbiased and high-throughput discovery of targets remains a major challenge, yet is required to understand the biological function of a given miRNA.

I hypothesize that duplication events grant miRNA families with enhanced regulatory capabilities, specifically through distinct targeting preferences by family members. This has relevance for our understanding of vertebrate evolution, as well disease detection and personalized medicine. To test this hypothesis, I apply a conjunction of bioinformatic and experimental approaches, and design a novel high-throughput screening platform to identify human miRNA targets. Combined with conventional approaches, this tool allows systematic testing for functional targets of human miRNAs, and the identification of novel target genes on an unprecedented scale.

In this dissertation, I explore evolutionary signatures of 62 deeply conserved metazoan miRNA families, as well as the targeting preferences for several human miRNAs. I find that constraints on miRNA processing impact sequence evolution, creating evolutionary hotspots within families that guide distinct target preferences. I apply our novel screening platform to two cancer-relevant miRNAs, and identify hundreds of previously undescribed targets. I also analyze critical features of functional miRNA target sites, finding that each miRNA recognizes surprisingly distinct features of targets. To further explore the functional distinction between family members, I analyze miRNA expression patterns in multiple contexts, including mouse embryogenesis, RNA-seq data from human tissues, and cancer cell lines. Together, my results inform a model that describes the evolution of metazoan miRNAs, and suggests that highly similar miRNA family members possess distinct functions. These findings broaden our understanding of miRNA function in vertebrate evolution and development, and how their misexpression contributes to human disease.

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Date Created
  • 2016

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Comparative genomics and novel bioinformatics methodology applied to the green anole reveal unique sex chromosome evolution

Description

In species with highly heteromorphic sex chromosomes, the degradation of one of the sex chromosomes can result in unequal gene expression between the sexes (e.g., between XX females and XY

In species with highly heteromorphic sex chromosomes, the degradation of one of the sex chromosomes can result in unequal gene expression between the sexes (e.g., between XX females and XY males) and between the sex chromosomes and the autosomes. Dosage compensation is a process whereby genes on the sex chromosomes achieve equal gene expression which prevents deleterious side effects from having too much or too little expression of genes on sex chromsomes. The green anole is part of a group of species that recently underwent an adaptive radiation. The green anole has XX/XY sex determination, but the content of the X chromosome and its evolution have not been described. Given its status as a model species, better understanding the green anole genome could reveal insights into other species. Genomic analyses are crucial for a comprehensive picture of sex chromosome differentiation and dosage compensation, in addition to understanding speciation.

In order to address this, multiple comparative genomics and bioinformatics analyses were conducted to elucidate patterns of evolution in the green anole and across multiple anole species. Comparative genomics analyses were used to infer additional X-linked loci in the green anole, RNAseq data from male and female samples were anayzed to quantify patterns of sex-biased gene expression across the genome, and the extent of dosage compensation on the anole X chromosome was characterized, providing evidence that the sex chromosomes in the green anole are dosage compensated.

In addition, X-linked genes have a lower ratio of nonsynonymous to synonymous substitution rates than the autosomes when compared to other Anolis species, and pairwise rates of evolution in genes across the anole genome were analyzed. To conduct this analysis a new pipeline was created for filtering alignments and performing batch calculations for whole genome coding sequences. This pipeline has been made publicly available.

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Date Created
  • 2016

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From autopsy donor to stem cell to neuron (and back again): cell line cohorts, IPSC proof-of-principle studies, and transcriptome comparisons of in vitro and in vivo neural cells

Description

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are an intriguing approach for neurological disease modeling, because neural lineage-specific cell types that retain the donors' complex genetics can be established in vitro. The

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are an intriguing approach for neurological disease modeling, because neural lineage-specific cell types that retain the donors' complex genetics can be established in vitro. The statistical power of these iPSC-based models, however, is dependent on accurate diagnoses of the somatic cell donors; unfortunately, many neurodegenerative diseases are commonly misdiagnosed in live human subjects. Postmortem histopathological examination of a donor's brain, combined with premortem clinical criteria, is often the most robust approach to correctly classify an individual as a disease-specific case or unaffected control. We describe the establishment of primary dermal fibroblasts cells lines from 28 autopsy donors. These fibroblasts were used to examine the proliferative effects of establishment protocol, tissue amount, biopsy site, and donor age. As proof-of-principle, iPSCs were generated from fibroblasts from a 75-year-old male, whole body donor, defined as an unaffected neurological control by both clinical and histopathological criteria. To our knowledge, this is the first study describing autopsy donor-derived somatic cells being used for iPSC generation and subsequent neural differentiation. This unique approach also enables us to compare iPSC-derived cell cultures to endogenous tissues from the same donor. We utilized RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) to evaluate the transcriptional progression of in vitro-differentiated neural cells (over a timecourse of 0, 35, 70, 105 and 140 days), and compared this with donor-identical temporal lobe tissue. We observed in vitro progression towards the reference brain tissue, supported by (i) a significant increasing monotonic correlation between the days of our timecourse and the number of actively transcribed protein-coding genes and long intergenic non-coding RNAs (lincRNAs) (P < 0.05), consistent with the transcriptional complexity of the brain, (ii) an increase in CpG methylation after neural differentiation that resembled the epigenomic signature of the endogenous tissue, and (iii) a significant decreasing monotonic correlation between the days of our timecourse and the percent of in vitro to brain-tissue differences (P < 0.05) for tissue-specific protein-coding genes and all putative lincRNAs. These studies support the utility of autopsy donors' somatic cells for iPSC-based neurological disease models, and provide evidence that in vitro neural differentiation can result in physiologically progression.

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  • 2013

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Characterization of small cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type (SCCOHT)

Description

Small Cell Carcinoma of the Ovary Hypercalcemic Type (SCCOHT) is a rare and highly aggressive ovarian cancer that affects children and young women at a mean age of 24 years.

Small Cell Carcinoma of the Ovary Hypercalcemic Type (SCCOHT) is a rare and highly aggressive ovarian cancer that affects children and young women at a mean age of 24 years. Most SCCOHT patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage and do not respond to chemotherapy. As a result, more than 75% of patients succumb to their disease within 1-2 years. To provide insights into the biological, diagnostic, and therapeutic vulnerabilities of this deadly cancer, a comprehensive characterization of 22 SCCOHT cases and 2 SCCOHT cell lines using microarray and next-generation sequencing technologies was performed. Following histological examination, tumor DNA and RNA were extracted and used for array comparative genomic hybridization and gene expression microarray analyses. In agreement with previous reports, SCCOHT presented consistently diploid profiles with few copy number aberrations. Gene expression analysis showed SCCOHT tumors have a unique gene expression profile unlike that of most common epithelial ovarian carcinomas. Dysregulated cell cycle control, DNA repair, DNA damage-response, nucleosome assembly, neurogenesis and nervous system development were all characteristic of SCCOHT tumors. Sequencing of DNA from SCCOHT patients and cell lines revealed germline and somatic inactivating mutations in the SWI/SNF chromatin-remodeling gene SMARCA4 in 79% (19/24) of SCCOHT patients in addition to SMARCA4 protein loss in 84% (16/19) of SCCOHT tumors, but in only 0.4% (2/485) of other primary ovarian tumors. Ongoing studies are now focusing on identifying treatments for SCCOHT based on therapeutic vulnerabilities conferred by ubiquitous inactivating mutations in SMARCA4 in addition to gene and protein expression data. Our characterization of the molecular landscape of SCCOHT and the breakthrough identification of inactivating SMARCA4 mutations in almost all cases of SCCOHT offers the first significant insight into the molecular pathogenesis of this disease. The loss of SMARCA4 protein is a highly sensitive and specific marker of the disease, highlighting its potential role as a diagnostic marker, and offers the opportunity for genetic testing of family members at risk. Outstanding questions remain about the role of SMARCA4 loss in the biology, histogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment of SCCOHT.

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Date Created
  • 2014

Advancing the lizard, Anolis carolinensis, as a model system for genomic studies of evolution, development and regeneration

Description

Well-established model systems exist in four out of the seven major classes of vertebrates. These include the mouse, chicken, frog and zebrafish. Noticeably missing from this list is a reptilian

Well-established model systems exist in four out of the seven major classes of vertebrates. These include the mouse, chicken, frog and zebrafish. Noticeably missing from this list is a reptilian model organism for comparative studies between the vertebrates and for studies of biological processes unique to reptiles. To help fill in this gap the green anole lizard, Anolis carolinensis, is being adapted as a model organism. Despite the recent release of the complete genomic sequence of the A. carolinensis, the lizard lacks some resources to aid researchers in their studies. Particularly, the lack of transcriptomic resources for lizard has made it difficult to identify genes complete with alternative splice forms and untranslated regions (UTRs). As part of this work the genome annotation for A. carolinensis was improved through next generation sequencing and assembly of the transcriptomes from 14 different adult and embryonic tissues. This revised annotation of the lizard will improve comparative studies between vertebrates, as well as studies within A. carolinensis itself, by providing more accurate gene models, which provide the bases for molecular studies. To demonstrate the utility of the improved annotations and reptilian model organism, the developmental process of somitogenesis in the lizard was analyzed and compared with other vertebrates. This study identified several key features both divergent and convergent between the vertebrates, which was not previously known before analysis of a reptilian model organism. The improved genome annotations have also allowed for molecular studies of tail regeneration in the lizard. With the annotation of 3' UTR sequences and next generation sequencing, it is now possible to do expressional studies of miRNA and predict their mRNA target transcripts at genomic scale. Through next generation small RNA sequencing and subsequent analysis, several differentially expressed miRNAs were identified in the regenerating tail, suggesting miRNA may play a key role in regulating this process in lizards. Through miRNA target prediction several key biological pathways were identified as potentially under the regulation of miRNAs during tail regeneration. In total, this work has both helped advance A. carolinensis as model system and displayed the utility of a reptilian model system.

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Date Created
  • 2012

Primate skeletal epigenetics: evolutionary implications of DNA methylation patterns in the skeletal tissues of human and nonhuman primates

Description

Within the primate lineage, skeletal traits that contribute to inter-specific anatomical variation and enable varied niche occupations and forms of locomotion are often described as the result of environmental adaptations.

Within the primate lineage, skeletal traits that contribute to inter-specific anatomical variation and enable varied niche occupations and forms of locomotion are often described as the result of environmental adaptations. However, skeletal phenotypes are more accurately defined as complex traits, and environmental, genetic, and epigenetic mechanisms, such as DNA methylation which regulates gene expression, all contribute to these phenotypes. Nevertheless, skeletal complexity in relation to epigenetic variation has not been assessed across the primate order. In order to gain a complete understanding of the evolution of skeletal phenotypes across primates, it is necessary to study skeletal epigenetics in primates. This study attempts to fill this gap by identifying intra- and inter-specific variation in primate skeletal tissue methylation in order to test whether specific features of skeletal form are related to specific variations in methylation. Specifically, methylation arrays and gene-specific methylation sequencing are used to identify DNA methylation patterns in femoral trabecular bone and cartilage of several nonhuman primate species. Samples include baboons (Papio spp.), macaques (Macaca mulatta), vervets (Chlorocebus aethiops), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), and marmosets (Callithrix jacchus), and the efficiencies of these methods are validated in each taxon. Within one nonhuman primate species (baboons), intra-specific variations in methylation patterns are identified across a range of comparative levels, including skeletal tissue differences (bone vs. cartilage), age cohort differences (adults vs. juveniles), and skeletal disease state differences (osteoarthritic vs. healthy), and some of the identified patterns are evolutionarily conserved with those known in humans. Additionally, in all nonhuman primate species, intra-specific methylation variation in association with nonpathological femur morphologies is assessed. Lastly, inter-specific changes in methylation are evaluated among all nonhuman primate taxa and used to provide a phylogenetic framework for methylation changes previously identified in the hominin lineage. Overall, findings from this work reveal how skeletal DNA methylation patterns vary within and among primate species and relate to skeletal phenotypes, and together they inform our understanding of epigenetic regulation and complex skeletal trait evolution in primates.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2017