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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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The Genomics of Cancer Resistance in Long-Lived Vesper Bats

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Bats (order Chiroptera) are the longest lived mammals for their size, with particularly extreme longevity evolving in the family Vespertilionidae, or vesper bats. Because of this, researchers have proposed using

Bats (order Chiroptera) are the longest lived mammals for their size, with particularly extreme longevity evolving in the family Vespertilionidae, or vesper bats. Because of this, researchers have proposed using bats to study ageing and cancer suppression. Here, we study gene duplications across mammalian genomes and show that, similar to previous findings in elephants, bats have experienced duplications of the tumor suppressor gene TP53, including five genomic copies in the genome of the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) and two copies in Brandt's bat (Myotis brandtii). These species can live 37 and 41 years, respectively, despite having an adult body mass of only ~7 grams. We use evolutionary genetics and next generation sequencing approaches to show that positive selection has acted on the TP53 locus across bats, and two recently duplicated TP53 gene copies in the little brown bat are both highly conserved and expressed, suggesting they are functional. We also report an extraordinary genomic copy number expansion of the tumor suppressor gene FBXO31 in the common ancestor of vesper bats which accelerated in the Myotis lineage, leading to 34\u201457 copies and the expression of 20 functional FBXO31 homologs in Brandt's bat. As FBXO31 directs the degradation of MDM2, which is a negative regulator of TP53, we suggest that increased expression of both FBXO31 and TP53 may be related to an enhanced DNA-damage response to genotoxic stress brought on by long lifespans and rapid metabolic rates in bats.

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  • 2018-12

Life history affects cancer gene copy numbers in mammalian genomes

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Cancer is a disease which can affect all animals across the tree of life. Certain species have undergone natural selection to reduce or prevent cancer. Mechanisms to block cancer may

Cancer is a disease which can affect all animals across the tree of life. Certain species have undergone natural selection to reduce or prevent cancer. Mechanisms to block cancer may include, among others, a species possessing additional paralogues of tumor suppressor genes, or decreasing the number of oncogenes within their genome. To understand cancer prevention patterns across species, I developed a bioinformatic pipeline to identify copies of 545 known tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes across 63 species of mammals. I used phylogenetic regressions to test for associations between cancer gene copy numbers and a species’ life history. I found a significant association between cancer gene copies and species’ longevity quotient. Additional paralogues of tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes is not solely dependent on body size, but rather the balance between body size and longevity. Additionally, there is a significance association between life history traits and genes that are both germline and somatic tumor suppressor genes. The bioinformatic pipeline identified large tumor suppressor gene and oncogene copy numbers in the naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber), armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), and the two-fingered sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni). These results suggest that increased paralogues of tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes are these species’ modes of cancer resistance.

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  • 2019