Laboratory of Artificial & Natural Evolution (LANE), Department of Genetics & Evolution, University of Geneva Geneva, Switzerland.
A species of Galapagos tortoise endemic to Espanola Island was reduced to just 12 females and three males that have been bred in captivity since 1971 and have produced over 1700 offspring now repatriated to the island. Our molecular genetic analyses of juveniles repatriated to and surviving on the island indicate that none of the tortoises sampled in 1994 had hatched on the island versus 3% in 2004 and 24% in 2007, which demonstrates substantial and increasing reproduction once again. This recovery occurred despite the parental population having an estimated effective population size <8 due to a combination of unequal reproductive success of the breeders and nonrandom mating in captivity. These results provide guidelines for adapting breeding regimes in the parental captive population and decreasing inbreeding in the repatriated population. Using simple morphological data scored on the sampled animals, we also show that a strongly heterogeneous distribution of tortoise sizes on Espanola Island observed today is due to a large variance in the number of animals included in yearly repatriation events performed in the last 40 years. Our study reveals that, at least in the short run, some endangered species can recover dramatically despite a lack of genetic variation and irregular repatriation efforts.
Laboratory of Artificial & Natural Evolution (LANE), Department of Genetics & Evolution, University of Geneva, Sciences III, Geneva, Switzerland.
The vomeronasal organ (VNO) is an olfactory structure that detects pheromones and environmental cues. It consists of sensory neurons that express evolutionary unrelated groups of transmembrane chemoreceptors. The predominant V1R and V2R receptor repertoires are believed to detect airborne and water-soluble molecules, respectively. It has been suggested that the shift in habitat of early tetrapods from water to land is reflected by an increase in the ratio of V1R/V2R genes. Snakes, which have a very large VNO associated with a sophisticated tongue delivery system, are missing from this analysis. Here, we use RNA-seq and RNA in situ hybridization to study the diversity, evolution, and expression pattern of the corn snake vomeronasal receptor repertoires. Our analyses indicate that snakes and lizards retain an extremely limited number of V1R genes but exhibit a large number of V2R genes, including multiple lineages of reptile-specific and snake-specific expansions. We finally show that the peculiar bigenic pattern of V2R vomeronasal receptor gene transcription observed in mammals is conserved in squamate reptiles, hinting at an important but unknown functional role played by this expression strategy. Our results do not support the hypothesis that the shift to a vomeronasal receptor repertoire dominated by V1Rs in mammals reflects the evolutionary transition of early tetrapods from water to land. This study sheds light on the evolutionary dynamics of the vomeronasal receptor families in vertebrates and reveals how mammals and squamates differentially adapted the same ancestral vomeronasal repertoire to succeed in a terrestrial environment.
Laboratory of Arti fi cial and Natural Evolution (LANE), Department of Genetics and Evolution, University of Geneva, Sciences III, 30, Quai Ernest-Ansermet, 1211 Geneve, Switzerland.
Various lineages of amniotes display keratinized skin appendages (feathers, hairs, and scales) that differentiate in the embryo from genetically controlled developmental units whose spatial organization is patterned by reaction-diffusion mechanisms (RDM). We show that contrary to skin appendages in other amniotes (as well as body scales in crocodiles), face and jaws scales of crocodiles are random polygonal domains of highly keratinized skin, rather than genetically controlled elements, and emerge from a physical self-organizing stochastic process distinct from RDM: cracking of the developing skin in a stress field. We suggest that the rapid growth of the crocodile embryonic facial and jaw skeleton, combined with the development of a very keratinized skin, generates the mechanical stress that causes cracking.
Palaontologisches Institut und Museum, Universitat Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland Institut fur Geowissenschaften, Tubingen, Germany Laboratory of Artificial & Natural Evolution (LANE), Department ...
Studies of evolutionary developmental biology commonly use 'model organisms' such as fruit flies or mice, and questions are often functional or epigenetic. Phylogenetic investigations, in contrast, typically use species that are less common and mostly deal with broad scale analyses in the tree of life. However, important evolutionary transformations have taken place at all taxonomic levels, resulting in such diverse forms as elephants and shrews. To understand the mechanisms underlying morphological diversification, broader sampling and comparative approaches are paramount. Using a simple, standardized protocol, we describe for the first time the development of soft tissues and some parts of the skeleton, using muCT-imaging of developmental series of Echinops telfairi and Tenrec ecaudatus, two tenrecid afrotherian mammals. The developmental timing of soft tissue and skeletal characters described for the tenrecids is briefly compared with that of other mammals, including mouse, echidna, and the opossum. We found relatively few heterochronic differences in development in the armadillo vs. tenrec, consistent with a close relationship of Xenarthra and Afrotheria. Ossification in T. ecaudatus continues well into the second half of overall gestation, resembling the pattern seen in other small mammals and differing markedly from the advanced state of ossification evident early in the gestation of elephants, sheep, and humans.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Reptiles are largely under-represented in comparative genomics despite the fact that they are substantially more diverse in many respects than mammals. Given the high divergence of reptiles from classical model species, next-generation sequencing of their transcriptomes is an approach of choice for gene identification and annotation. RESULTS: Here, we use 454 technology to sequence the brain transcriptome of four divergent reptilian and one reference avian species: the Nile crocodile, the corn snake, the bearded dragon, the red-eared turtle, and the chicken. Using an in-house pipeline for recursive similarity searches of >3,000,000 reads against multiple databases from 7 reference vertebrates, we compile a reptilian comparative transcriptomics dataset, with homology assignment for 20,000 to 31,000 transcripts per species and a cumulated non-redundant sequence length of 248.6 Mbases. Our approach identifies the majority (87%) of chicken brain transcripts and about 50% of de novo assembled reptilian transcripts. In addition to 57,502 microsatellite loci, we identify thousands of SNP and indel polymorphisms for population genetic and linkage analyses. We also build very large multiple alignments for Sauropsida and mammals (2 millions residues per species) and perform extensive phylogenetic analyses suggesting that turtles are not basal living reptiles but are rather associated with Archosaurians, hence, potentially answering a long-standing question in the phylogeny of Amniotes. CONCLUSIONS: The reptilian transcriptome (freely available at www.reptilian-transcriptomes.org) should prove a useful new resource as reptiles are becoming important new models for comparative genomics, ecology, and evolutionary developmental genetics.
Unit of Evolutionary Biology/Systematic Zoology, Institute of Biochemistry and Biology, University of Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 24-25, Haus 26, D-14476 Potsdam, Germany Langahlieth 9a, IS-60...
Intraspecific brood parasitism (IBP) is a remarkable phenomenon by which parasitic females can increase their reproductive output by laying eggs in conspecific females' nests in addition to incubating eggs in their own nest. Kin selection could explain the tolerance, or even the selective advantage, of IBP, but different models of IBP based on game theory yield contradicting predictions. Our analyses of seven polymorphic autosomal microsatellites in two eider duck colonies indicate that relatedness between host and parasitizing females is significantly higher than the background relatedness within the colony. This result is unlikely to be a by-product of relatives nesting in close vicinity, as nest distance and genetic identity are not correlated. For eider females that had been ring-marked during the decades prior to our study, our analyses indicate that (i) the average age of parasitized females is higher than the age of nonparasitized females, (ii) the percentage of nests with alien eggs increases with the age of nesting females, (iii) the level of IBP increases with the host females' age, and (iv) the number of own eggs in the nest of parasitized females significantly decreases with age. IBP may allow those older females unable to produce as many eggs as they can incubate to gain indirect fitness without impairing their direct fitness: genetically related females specialize in their energy allocation, with young females producing more eggs than they can incubate and entrusting these to their older relatives. Intraspecific brood parasitism in ducks may constitute cooperation among generations of closely related females.
Molecular Ecology Laboratory, Department of Evolutionary Biology, University of Florence, Via Romana 17, 50125 Florence, Italy Laboratory of Artificial & Natural Evolution, Department of Geneti...
Multiplex PCR assays for the coamplification of microsatellite loci allow rapid and cost-effective genetic analyses and the production of efficient screening protocols for international breeding programs. We constructed a partial genomic library enriched for di-nucleotide repeats and characterized 14 new microsatellite loci for the Komodo monitor (or Komodo dragon, Varanus komodoensis). Using these novel microsatellites and four previously described loci, we developed multiplex PCR assays that may be loaded on a genetic analyser in three separate panels. We tested the novel set of microsatellites for polymorphism using 69 individuals from three island populations and evaluated the resolving power of the entire panel of 18 loci by conducting (i) a preliminary assignment test to determine population(s) of origin and (ii) a parentage analysis for 43 captive Komodo monitors. This panel of polymorphic loci proved useful for both purposes and thus can be exploited for fine-scale population genetic analyses and as part of international captive breeding programs directed at maintaining genetically viable ex situ populations and reintroductions.
National Research Center Frontiers in Genetics, Department of Zoology and Animal Biology, University of Geneva, Sciences III, 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland.
Hox genes are central to the specification of structures along the anterior-posterior body axis, and modifications in their expression have paralleled the emergence of diversity in vertebrate body plans. Here we describe the genomic organization of Hox clusters in different reptiles and show that squamates have accumulated unusually large numbers of transposable elements at these loci, reflecting extensive genomic rearrangements of coding and non-coding regulatory regions. Comparative expression analyses between two species showing different axial skeletons, the corn snake and the whiptail lizard, revealed major alterations in Hox13 and Hox10 expression features during snake somitogenesis, in line with the expansion of both caudal and thoracic regions. Variations in both protein sequences and regulatory modalities of posterior Hox genes suggest how this genetic system has dealt with its intrinsic collinear constraint to accompany the substantial morphological radiation observed in this group.
Department of Biology of Namur University, Belgium.
BACKGROUND: The development, in the last decade, of stochastic heuristics implemented in robust application softwares has made large phylogeny inference a key step in most comparative studies involving molecular sequences. Still, the choice of a phylogeny inference software is often dictated by a combination of parameters not related to the raw performance of the implemented algorithm(s) but rather by practical issues such as ergonomics and/or the availability of specific functionalities. RESULTS: Here, we present MetaPIGA v2.0, a robust implementation of several stochastic heuristics for large phylogeny inference (under maximum likelihood), including a Simulated Annealing algorithm, a classical Genetic Algorithm, and the Metapopulation Genetic Algorithm (metaGA) together with complex substitution models, discrete Gamma rate heterogeneity, and the possibility to partition data. MetaPIGA v2.0 also implements the Likelihood Ratio Test, the Akaike Information Criterion, and the Bayesian Information Criterion for automated selection of substitution models that best fit the data. Heuristics and substitution models are highly customizable through manual batch files and command line processing. However, MetaPIGA v2.0 also offers an extensive graphical user interface for parameters setting, generating and running batch files, following run progress, and manipulating result trees. MetaPIGA v2.0 uses standard formats for data sets and trees, is platform independent, runs in 32 and 64-bits systems, and takes advantage of multiprocessor and multicore computers. CONCLUSIONS: The metaGA resolves the major problem inherent to classical Genetic Algorithms by maintaining high inter-population variation even under strong intra-population selection. Implementation of the metaGA together with additional stochastic heuristics into a single software will allow rigorous optimization of each heuristic as well as a meaningful comparison of performances among these algorithms. MetaPIGA v2.0 gives access both to high customization for the phylogeneticist, as well as to an ergonomic interface and functionalities assisting the non-specialist for sound inference of large phylogenetic trees using nucleotide sequences. MetaPIGA v2.0 and its extensive user-manual are freely available to academics at http://www.metapiga.org.
Recent analyses indicated that genes with larger effect of knockout or mutation and with larger probability to revert to single copy after whole genome duplication are expressed earlier in development. Here, we further investigate whether tissue specificity of gene expression is constrained by the age of origin of the corresponding genes. We use 38 metazoan genomes and a comparative genomic application system to integrate inference of gene duplication with expression data from 17,503 human genes into a strictly phylogenetic framework. We show that the number of anatomical systems in which genes are expressed decreases steadily with decreased age of the genes' first appearance in the phylogeny: the oldest genes are expressed, on average, in twice as many anatomical systems than the genes gained recently in evolution. These results are robust to different sources of expression data, to different levels of the anatomical system hierarchy, and to the use of gene families rather than duplication events. Finally, we show that the rate of increase in gene tissue specificity correlates with the relative rate of increase in the maximum number of cell types in the corresponding taxa. Although subfunctionalization and increase in cell type number throughout evolution could constitute, respectively, the proximal and ultimate causes of this correlation, the two phenomena are intermingled. Our analyses identify a striking historical constraint in gene expression: the number of cell types in existence at the time of a gene appearance (through duplication or de novo origination) tends to determine its level of tissue specificity for tens or hundreds of millions of years.
Laboratory of Artificial and Natural Evolution (LANE), Department of Zoology and Animal Biology, Sciences III, 30, Quai Ernest-Ansermet, 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland. email@example.com
BACKGROUND: Given the availability of full genome sequences, mapping gene gains, duplications, and losses during evolution should theoretically be straightforward. However, this endeavor suffers from overemphasis on detecting conserved genome features, which in turn has led to sequencing multiple eutherian genomes with low coverage rather than fewer genomes with high-coverage and more even distribution in the phylogeny. Although limitations associated with analysis of low coverage genomes are recognized, they have not been quantified. RESULTS: Here, using recently developed comparative genomic application systems, we evaluate the impact of low-coverage genomes on inferences pertaining to gene gains and losses when analyzing eukaryote genome evolution through gene duplication. We demonstrate that, when performing inference of genome content evolution, low-coverage genomes generate not only a massive number of false gene losses, but also striking artifacts in gene duplication inference, especially at the most recent common ancestor of low-coverage genomes. We show that the artifactual gains are caused by the low coverage of genome sequence per se rather than by the increased taxon sampling in a biased portion of the species tree. CONCLUSIONS: We argue that it will remain difficult to differentiate artifacts from true changes in modes and tempo of genome evolution until there is better homogeneity in both taxon sampling and high-coverage sequencing. This is important for broadening the utility of full genome data to the community of evolutionary biologists, whose interests go well beyond widely conserved physiologies and developmental patterns as they seek to understand the generative mechanisms underlying biological diversity.
Department of Biology, University of Namur, Namur, Belgium. firstname.lastname@example.org
Rotifers of Class Bdelloidea are remarkable in having evolved for millions of years, apparently without males and meiosis. In addition, they are unusually resistant to desiccation and ionizing radiation and are able to repair hundreds of radiation-induced DNA double-strand breaks per genome with little effect on viability or reproduction. Because specific histone H2A variants are involved in DSB repair and certain meiotic processes in other eukaryotes, we investigated the histone H2A genes and proteins of two bdelloid species. Genomic libraries were built and probed to identify histone H2A genes in Adineta vaga and Philodina roseola, species representing two different bdelloid families. The expressed H2A proteins were visualized on SDS-PAGE gels and identified by tandem mass spectrometry. We find that neither the core histone H2A, present in nearly all other eukaryotes, nor the H2AX variant, a ubiquitous component of the eukaryotic DSB repair machinery, are present in bdelloid rotifers. Instead, they are replaced by unusual histone H2A variants of higher mass. In contrast, a species of rotifer belonging to the facultatively sexual, desiccation- and radiation-intolerant sister class of bdelloid rotifers, the monogononts, contains a canonical core histone H2A and appears to lack the bdelloid H2A variant genes. Applying phylogenetic tools, we demonstrate that the bdelloid-specific H2A variants arose as distinct lineages from canonical H2A separate from those leading to the H2AX and H2AZ variants. The replacement of core H2A and H2AX in bdelloid rotifers by previously uncharacterized H2A variants with extended carboxy-terminal tails is further evidence for evolutionary diversity within this class of histone H2A genes and may represent adaptation to unusual features specific to bdelloid rotifers.