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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

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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  • 2015

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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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Date Created
  • 2013

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