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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

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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Genome-wide mining and comparative analyses of the Toll-like Receptor 7 and 11 gene subfamilies in reptiles

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New genomic resources allow for the investigation of gene family diversity in genome-enabled reptiles. The Toll-like Receptor (TLR) gene family recognizes pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) and coevolves with environmental pathogens

New genomic resources allow for the investigation of gene family diversity in genome-enabled reptiles. The Toll-like Receptor (TLR) gene family recognizes pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) and coevolves with environmental pathogens which makes it a strong candidate for looking at the interplay between gene family diversification and host-pathogen coevolution. Using a new orthology curation pipeline and phylogenetic reconstruction, a novel gene expansion event of TLR8 was identified to be exclusive to crocodilians and chelonians with species-specific pseudogenization events. A new gene, TLR21-like, was identified as a part of the TLR11 subfamily. These findings uncover reptile-specific gene family evolution and provide indications of the role of habitat in this process.

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  • 2020-05

Transcriptomic and Cellular Studies of Tail Regeneration in Saurian Reptiles

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Traumatic injury to the central nervous or musculoskeletal system in traditional amniote models, such as mouse and chicken, is permanent with long-term physiological and functional effects. However, among amniotes, the

Traumatic injury to the central nervous or musculoskeletal system in traditional amniote models, such as mouse and chicken, is permanent with long-term physiological and functional effects. However, among amniotes, the ability to regrow complex, multi-tissue structures is unique to non-avian reptiles. Structural regeneration is extensively studied in lizards, with most species able to regrow a functional tail. The lizard regenerated tail includes the spinal cord, cartilage, de novo muscle, vasculature, and skin, and unlike mammals, these tissues can be replaced in lizards as adults. These studies focus on the events that occur before and after the tail regrowth phase, identifying conserved mechanisms that enable functional tail regeneration in the green anole lizard, Anolis carolinensis. An examination of coordinated interactions between peripheral nerves, Schwann cells, and skeletal muscle reveal that reformation of the lizard neuromuscular system is dependent upon developmental programs as well as those unique to the adult during late stages of regeneration. On the other hand, transcriptomic analysis of the early injury response identified many immunoregulatory genes that may be essential for inhibiting fibrosis and initiating regenerative programs. Lastly, an anatomical and histological study of regrown alligator tails reveal that regenerative capacity varies between different reptile groups, providing comparative opportunities within amniotes and across vertebrates. In order to identify mechanisms that limit regeneration, these cross-species analyses will be critical. Taken together, these studies serve as a foundation for future experimental work that will reveal the interplay between reparative and regenerative mechanisms in adult amniotes with translational implications for medical therapies.

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  • 2020