BACKGROUND: We describe the genome of the western painted turtle, Chrysemys picta bellii, one of the most widespread, abundant, and well-studied turtles. We place the genome into a comparative evolutionary context, and focus on genomic features associated with tooth loss, immune function, longevity, sex differentiation and determination, and the species physiological capacities to withstand extreme anoxia and tissue freezing. RESULTS: Our phylogenetic analyses confirm that turtles are the sister group to living archosaurs, and demonstrate an extraordinarily slow rate of sequence evolution in the painted turtle. The ability of the painted turtle to withstand complete anoxia and partial freezing appears to be associated with common vertebrate gene networks, and we identify candidate genes for future functional analyses. Tooth loss shares a common pattern of pseudogenization and degradation of tooth-specific genes with birds, although the rate of accumulation of mutations is much slower in the painted turtle. Genes associated with sex differentiation generally reflect phylogeny rather than convergence in sex determination functionality. Among gene families that demonstrate exceptional expansions or show signatures of strong natural selection, immune function and musculoskeletal patterning genes are consistently over-represented. CONCLUSIONS: Our comparative genomic analyses indicate that common vertebrate regulatory networks, some of which have analogs in human diseases, are often involved in the western painted turtles extraordinary physiological capacities. As these regulatory pathways are analyzed at the functional level, the painted turtle may offer important insights into the management of a number of human health disorders.
Reptiles display a wide diversity of sex-determining mechanisms ranging from temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) to genotypic sex determination (GSD) with either male (XY) or female (ZW) heterogamety. Despite this astounding variability, the origin, structure, and evolution of sex chromosomes remain poorly understood. In turtles, TSD is purportedly ancestral while GSD arose multiple times independently. Here we test whether independent (XY or ZW) or morphologically divergent heterogametic sex chromosome systems evolved in tryonichids (Cryptodira) using the GSD spiny softshell turtle, Apalone spinifera, a species with previously unidentified sex chromosomes. A female-specific signal from comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) was detected in a Giemsa/4,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole faint portion of a microchromosome, indicating the presence of a ZZ/ZW system in A. spinifera. In situ hybridization of a fluorescently labeled 18S rRNA probe identified a large nucleolar organizer region block in the female-specific region of the W (co-localizing with the female-specific CGH signal) and a smaller block on the Z. The heteromorphic ZZ/ZW micro-sex chromosome system detected here is identical to that found in another tryonichid, the Chinese softshell turtle Pelodiscus sinensis, from which A. spinifera diverged ?95 million years ago. These results reveal a striking sex chromosome conservation in tryonichids, compared to the divergent sex chromosome morphology observed among younger XX/XY systems in pleurodiran turtles. Our findings highlight the need to understand the drivers behind sex chromosome lability and conservation in different lineages and contribute to our knowledge of sex chromosome evolution in reptiles and vertebrates.
The Rattini (Muridae, Murinae) includes the biologically important model species Rattus norvegicus (RNO) and represents a group of rodents that are of clinical, agricultural and epidemiological importance. We present a comparative molecular cytogenetic investigation of ten Rattini species representative of the genera Maxomys, Leopoldamys, Niviventer, Berylmys, Bandicota and Rattus using chromosome banding, cross-species painting (Zoo-fluorescent in situ hybridization or FISH) and BAC-FISH mapping. Our results show that these taxa are characterised by slow to moderate rates of chromosome evolution that contrasts with the extensive chromosome restructuring identified in most other murid rodents, particularly the mouse lineage. This extends to genomic features such as NOR location (for example, NORs on RNO 3 are present on the corresponding chromosomes in all species except Bandicota savilei and Niviventer fulvescens, and the NORs on RNO 10 are conserved in all Rattini with the exception of Rattus). The satellite I DNA family detected and characterised herein appears to be taxon (Rattus) specific, and of recent origin (consistent with a feedback model of satellite evolution). BAC-mapping using clones that span regions responsible for the morphological variability exhibited by RNO 1, 12 and 13 (acrocentric/submetacentric) and their orthologues in Rattus species, demonstrated that the differences are most likely due to pericentric inversions as exemplified by data on Rattus tanezumi. Chromosomal characters detected using R. norvegicus and Maxomys surifer whole chromosome painting probes were mapped to a consensus sequence-based phylogenetic tree thus allowing an objective assessment of ancestral states for the reconstruction of the putative Rattini ancestral karyotype. This is thought to have comprised 46 chromosomes that, with the exception of a single pair of metacentric autosomes, were acrocentric in morphology.
Scrub typhus is an acute febrile zoonotic disease and worldwide more than a billion people may be at risk for infection. Orientia tsutsugamushi, the causative agent of scrub typhus, is an obligate intracellular bacterium. Rodents are reported to be the primary reservoir hosts of the disease and according to the most recent surveys, all species within the Rattus sensu lato complex of the tribe Rattini are carriers of scrub typhus. There is no evidence that any of mouse (Mus) species serves as the primary reservoir of the bacterium even when occurring in sympatry with wild infected rats. This contrast in the host/syndecan-4 interactions between Rattini and Asian Murini may be due to intrinsic (i.e., genetic) differences. Herein we compare the sequence and expression levels of syndecan-4 (the putative cell receptor of O. tsutsugamushi) between Rattini species that are known to be natural reservoirs for the typhus agents, and Murini species that are not. Although it was not possible to conclusively link the structural variations detected in syndecan-4 with carrier status in either Rattini and Murini, our findings indicate the absence of a strong Orientia-mediated selective regime acting on gene structure. In contrast, variable spleen-specific syndecan-4 expression levels show a strong correlation between under-expression of syndecan-4 in Murini and seropositive Rattini, compared to seronegative Rattini rodents. We postulate that two divergent responses may be at work in Murini and Rattini, both linked with differential expression of syndecan-4: (i) reduced syndecan-4 transcription in Murini decreases the likelihood that the host cells will become infected by the Orientia bacterium, while (ii) reduced syndecan-4 expression in seropositive Rattini limits the pathogenicity of Orientia and consequently improves the longevity of the rat hosts. These patterns may underpin the poor carrier status of wild mice on the one hand, and the effective role of wild rats as reservoir hosts on the other.
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