Methylmercury cycling in the Pacific Ocean has garnered significant attention in recent years, especially with regard to rising mercury emissions from Asia. Uncertainty exists concerning whether increases in anthropogenic emissions over time may have caused increased mercury bioaccumulation in the biota. To address this, we measured total mercury and, for a subset of samples, methylmercury (the bioaccumulated form of mercury) in museum feathers from an endangered seabird, the black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes), spanning a 120-y period. We analyzed stable isotopes of nitrogen (δ15N) and carbon (δ13C) to control for temporal changes in trophic structure and diet. In post-1940 and -1990 feathers, we detected significantly higher mean methylmercury concentrations and higher proportions of samples exhibiting above deleterious threshold levels (∼40,000 ng·g−1) of methylmercury relative to prior time points, suggesting that mercury toxicity may undermine reproductive effort in the species. We also found higher levels of (presumably curator-mediated) inorganic mercury in older specimens of albatross as well as two nonpelagic species lacking historical exposure to bioavailable mercury, patterns suggesting that studies on bioaccumulation should measure methylmercury rather than total mercury when using museum collections. δ15N contributed substantially to models explaining the observed methylmercury variation. After simultaneously controlling for significant trends in δ13C over time and δ15N with methylmercury exposure, year remained a significant independent covariate with feather methylmercury levels among the albatrosses. These data show that remote seabird colonies in the Pacific basin exhibit temporal changes in methylmercury levels consistent with historical global and recent regional increases in anthropogenic emissions.
Next-generation sequencing technology provides an attractive means to obtain large-scale sequence data necessary for comparative genomic analysis. To analyse the patterns of mutation rate variation and selection intensity across the avian genome, we performed brain transcriptome sequencing using Roche 454 technology of 10 different non-model avian species. Contigs from de novo assemblies were aligned to the two available avian reference genomes, chicken and zebra finch. In total, we identified 6499 different genes across all 10 species, with similar to 1000 genes found in each full run per species. We found evidence for a higher mutation rate of the Z chromosome than of autosomes (male-biased mutation) and a negative correlation between the neutral substitution rate (d(S)) and chromosome size. Analyses of the mean d(N)/d(S) ratio (omega) of genes across chromosomes supported the Hill-Robertson effect (the effect of selection at linked loci) and point at stochastic problems with omega as an independent measure of selection. Overall, this study demonstrates the usefulness of next-generation sequencing for obtaining genomic resources for comparative genomic analysis of non-model organisms.
The pathways that allow short noncoding RNAs such as the microRNAs (miRNAs) to mediate gene regulation and control critical cellular and developmental processes involve a limited number of key protein components. These proteins are the Dicer-like RNases, double-stranded RNA (dsRNA)-binding proteins, and the Argonaute (AGO) proteins that process stem-loop hairpin transcripts of endogenous genes to generate miRNAs or long dsRNA precursors (either exogenous or endogenous). Comparative genomics studies of metazoans have shown the pathways to be highly conserved overall; the major difference observed is that the vertebrate pathways overlap in sharing a single Dicer (DCR) and AGO proteins, whereas those of insects appear to be parallel, with distinct Dicers and AGOs required for each pathway. The genome of the pea aphid is the first available for a hemipteran insect and discloses an unexpected expansion of the miRNA pathway. It has two copies of the miRNA-specific dicr-1 and ago1 genes and four copies of pasha a cofactor of drosha involved in miRNA biosynthesis. For three of these expansions, we showed that one copy of the genes diverged rapidly and in one case (ago1b) shows signs of positive selection. These expansions occurred concomitantly within a brief evolutionary period. The pea aphid, which reproduces by viviparous parthenogenesis, is able to produce several adapted phenotypes from one single genotype. We show by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction that all the duplicated copies of the miRNA machinery genes are expressed in the different morphs. Investigating the function of these novel genes offers an exciting new challenge in aphid biology.
The genomes of birds and nonavian reptiles (Reptilia) are critical for understanding genome evolution in mammals and amniotes generally. Despite decades of study at the chromosomal and single-gene levels, and the evidence for great diversity in genome size, karyotype, and sex chromosome diversity, reptile genomes are virtually unknown in the comparative genomics era. The recent sequencing of the chicken and zebra finch genomes, in conjunction with genome scans and the online publication of the Anolis lizard genome, has begun to clarify the events leading from an ancestral amniote genome--predicted to be large and to possess a diverse repeat landscape on par with mammals and a birdlike sex chromosome system--to the small and highly streamlined genomes of birds. Reptilia exhibit a wide range of evolutionary rates of different subgenomes and, from isochores to mitochondrial DNA, provide a critical contrast to the genomic paradigms established in mammals.
Warren WC, Clayton DF, Ellegren H, Arnold AP, Hillier LW, Kunstner A, Searle S, White S, Vilella AJ, Fairley S, et al.The genome of a songbird. Nature. 2010;464 :757-762.Abstract
The zebra finch is an important model organism in several fields(1,2) with unique relevance to human neuroscience(3,4). Like other songbirds, the zebra finch communicates through learned vocalizations, an ability otherwise documented only in humans and a few other animals and lacking in the chicken(5)-the only bird with a sequenced genome until now(6). Here we present a structural, functional and comparative analysis of the genome sequence of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), which is a songbird belonging to the large avian order Passeriformes(7). We find that the overall structures of the genomes are similar in zebra finch and chicken, but they differ in many intrachromosomal rearrangements, lineage-specific gene family expansions, the number of long-terminal-repeat-based retrotransposons, and mechanisms of sex chromosome dosage compensation. We show that song behaviour engages gene regulatory networks in the zebra finch brain, altering the expression of long non-coding RNAs, microRNAs, transcription factors and their targets. We also show evidence for rapid molecular evolution in the songbird lineage of genes that are regulated during song experience. These results indicate an active involvement of the genome in neural processes underlying vocal communication and identify potential genetic substrates for the evolution and regulation of this behaviour.
The genetic structure of natural bacteriophage populations is poorly understood. Recent metagenomic studies suggest that phage biogeography is characterized by frequent migration. Using virus samples mostly isolated in Southern California, we recently showed that very little population structure exists in segmented RNA phage of the Cystoviridae family due to frequent segment reassortment (sexual genetic mixis) between unrelated virus individuals. Here we use a larger genetic dataset to examine the structure of Cystoviridae phage isolated from three geographic locations in Southern New England. We document extensive natural variation in the physical sizes of RNA genome segments for these viruses. In addition, consistent with earlier findings, our phylogenetic analyses and calculations of linkage disequilibrium (LD) show no evidence of within-segment recombination in wild populations. However, in contrast to the prior study, our analysis finds that reassortment of segments between individual phage plays a lesser role among cystoviruses sampled in New England, suggesting that the evolutionary importance of genetic mixis in Cystoviridae phage may vary according to geography. We discuss possible explanations for these conflicting results across the studies, such as differing local ecology and its impact on phage growth, and geographic differences in selection against hybrid phage genotypes.
BACKGROUND:Several phylogenetic approaches have been developed to estimate species trees from collections of gene trees. However, maximum likelihood approaches for estimating species trees under the coalescent model are limited. Although the likelihood of a species tree under the multispecies coalescent model has already been derived by Rannala and Yang, it can be shown that the maximum likelihood estimate (MLE) of the species tree (topology, branch lengths, and population sizes) from gene trees under this formula does not exist. In this paper, we develop a pseudo-likelihood function of the species tree to obtain maximum pseudo-likelihood estimates (MPE) of species trees, with branch lengths of the species tree in coalescent units.RESULTS:We show that the MPE of the species tree is statistically consistent as the number M of genes goes to infinity. In addition, the probability that the MPE of the species tree matches the true species tree converges to 1 at rate O(M -1). The simulation results confirm that the maximum pseudo-likelihood approach is statistically consistent even when the species tree is in the anomaly zone. We applied our method, Maximum Pseudo-likelihood for Estimating Species Trees (MP-EST) to a mammal dataset. The four major clades found in the MP-EST tree are consistent with those in the Bayesian concatenation tree. The bootstrap supports for the species tree estimated by the MP-EST method are more reasonable than the posterior probability supports given by the Bayesian concatenation method in reflecting the level of uncertainty in gene trees and controversies over the relationship of four major groups of placental mammals.CONCLUSIONS:MP-EST can consistently estimate the topology and branch lengths (in coalescent units) of the species tree. Although the pseudo-likelihood is derived from coalescent theory, and assumes no gene flow or horizontal gene transfer (HGT), the MP-EST method is robust to a small amount of HGT in the dataset. In addition, increasing the number of genes does not increase the computational time substantially. The MP-EST method is fast for analyzing datasets that involve a large number of genes but a moderate number of species.
Variability among sex chromosome pairs in amniotes denotes a dynamic history. Since amniotes diverged from a common ancestor, their sex chromosome pairs and, more broadly, sex-determining mechanisms have changed reversibly and frequently. These changes have been studied and characterized through the use of many tools and experimental approaches but perhaps most effectively through applications for bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) libraries. Individual BAC clones carry 100–200 kb of sequence from one individual of a target species that can be isolated by screening, mapped onto karyotypes, and sequenced. With these techniques, researchers have identified differences and similarities in sex chromosome content and organization across amniotes and have addressed hypotheses regarding the frequency and direction of past changes. Here, we review studies of sex chromosome evolution in amniotes and the ways in which the field of research has been affected by the advent of BAC libraries.
The Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata) is the first species of passerine bird with a complete genome sequence, making it an exciting time for avian evolutionary biology. Native to Australia and the Lesser Sunda Islands, this species has long played an important role in the study of ecology, behaviour and neuroscience. With the sequencing of its genome, the Zebra Finch now also represents an important model system for evolutionary and population genomics. The production of a genome sequence for the Zebra Finch will have far-reaching impacts on the study of avian biology. Here we discuss the genomic resources available for the Zebra Finch, including the genome sequence itself, and some of the ways in which they will facilitate the study of avian diversity. We also highlight recent examples from the literature that have already begun to leverage Zebra Finch genomic tools towards the study of birds in nature.
We review recent models to estimate phylogenetic trees under the multispecies coalescent. Although the distinction between gene trees and species trees has come to the fore of phylogenetics, only recently have methods been developed that explicitly estimate species trees. Of the several factors that can cause gene tree heterogeneity and discordance with the species tree, deep coalescence due to random genetic drift in branches of the species tree has been modeled most thoroughly. Bayesian approaches to estimating species trees utilizes two likelihood functions, one of which has been widely used in traditional phylogenetics and involves the model of nucleotide substitution, and the second of which is less familiar to phylogeneticists and involves the probability distribution of gene trees given a species tree. Other recent parametric and nonparametric methods for estimating species trees involve parsimony criteria, summary statistics, supertree and consensus methods. Species tree approaches are an appropriate goal for systematics, appear to work well in some cases where concatenation can be misleading, and suggest that sampling many independent loci will be paramount. Such methods can also be challenging to implement because of the complexity of the models and computational time. In addition, further elaboration of the simplest of coalescent models will be required to incorporate commonly known issues such as deviation from the molecular clock, gene flow and other genetic forces.
The estimation of species trees (phylogenies) is one of the most important problems in evolutionary biology, and recently, there has been greater appreciation of the need to estimate species trees directly rather than using gene trees as a surrogate. A Bayesian method constructed under the multispecies coalescent model can consistently estimate species trees but involves intensive computation, which can hinder its application to the phylogenetic analysis of large-scale genomic data. Many summary statistics-based approaches, such as shallowest coalescences (SC) and Global LAteSt Split (GLASS), have been developed to infer species phylogenies for multilocus data sets. In this paper, we propose 2 methods, species tree estimation using average ranks of coalescences (STAR) and species tree estimation using average coalescence times (STEAC), based on the summary statistics of coalescence times. It can be shown that the 2 methods are statistically consistent under the multispecies coalescent model. STAR uses the ranks of coalescences and is thus resistant to variable substitution rates along the branches in gene trees. A simulation study suggests that STAR consistently outperforms STEAC, SC, and GLASS when the substitution rates among lineages are highly variable. Two real genomic data sets were analyzed by the 2 methods and produced species trees that are consistent with previous results.
The human genome project has been recently complemented by whole-genome assessment sequence of 32 mammals and 24 nonmammalian vertebrate species suitable for comparative genomic analyses. Here we anticipate a precipitous drop in costs and increase in sequencing efficiency, with concomitant development of improved annotation technology and, therefore, propose to create a collection of tissue and DNA specimens for 10 000 vertebrate species specifically designated for whole-genome sequencing in the very near future. For this purpose, we, the Genome 10K Community of Scientists (G10KCOS), will assemble and allocate a biospecimen collection of some 16 203 representative vertebrate species spanning evolutionary diversity across living mammals, birds, nonavian reptiles, amphibians, and fishes (ca. 60 000 living species). In this proposal, we present precise counts for these 16 203 individual species with specimens presently tagged and stipulated for DNA sequencing by the G10KCOS. DNA sequencing has ushered in a new era of investigation in the biological sciences, allowing us to embark for the first time on a truly comprehensive study of vertebrate evolution, the results of which will touch nearly every aspect of vertebrate biological enquiry.