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

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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

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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Date Created
  • 2020

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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

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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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Date Created
  • 2013