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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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Date Created
  • 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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Date Created
  • 2015

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Comparative genomics and novel bioinformatics methodology applied to the green anole reveal unique sex chromosome evolution

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In species with highly heteromorphic sex chromosomes, the degradation of one of the sex chromosomes can result in unequal gene expression between the sexes (e.g., between XX females and XY

In species with highly heteromorphic sex chromosomes, the degradation of one of the sex chromosomes can result in unequal gene expression between the sexes (e.g., between XX females and XY males) and between the sex chromosomes and the autosomes. Dosage compensation is a process whereby genes on the sex chromosomes achieve equal gene expression which prevents deleterious side effects from having too much or too little expression of genes on sex chromsomes. The green anole is part of a group of species that recently underwent an adaptive radiation. The green anole has XX/XY sex determination, but the content of the X chromosome and its evolution have not been described. Given its status as a model species, better understanding the green anole genome could reveal insights into other species. Genomic analyses are crucial for a comprehensive picture of sex chromosome differentiation and dosage compensation, in addition to understanding speciation.

In order to address this, multiple comparative genomics and bioinformatics analyses were conducted to elucidate patterns of evolution in the green anole and across multiple anole species. Comparative genomics analyses were used to infer additional X-linked loci in the green anole, RNAseq data from male and female samples were anayzed to quantify patterns of sex-biased gene expression across the genome, and the extent of dosage compensation on the anole X chromosome was characterized, providing evidence that the sex chromosomes in the green anole are dosage compensated.

In addition, X-linked genes have a lower ratio of nonsynonymous to synonymous substitution rates than the autosomes when compared to other Anolis species, and pairwise rates of evolution in genes across the anole genome were analyzed. To conduct this analysis a new pipeline was created for filtering alignments and performing batch calculations for whole genome coding sequences. This pipeline has been made publicly available.

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Date Created
  • 2016

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