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

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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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  • 2015

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

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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,

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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  • 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

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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  • 2012