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1.  MHC-linked and un-linked class I genes in the wallaby 
BMC Genomics  2009;10:310.
MHC class I antigens are encoded by a rapidly evolving gene family comprising classical and non-classical genes that are found in all vertebrates and involved in diverse immune functions. However, there is a fundamental difference between the organization of class I genes in mammals and non-mammals. Non-mammals have a single classical gene responsible for antigen presentation, which is linked to the antigen processing genes, including TAP. This organization allows co-evolution of advantageous class Ia/TAP haplotypes. In contrast, mammals have multiple classical genes within the MHC, which are separated from the antigen processing genes by class III genes. It has been hypothesized that separation of classical class I genes from antigen processing genes in mammals allowed them to duplicate. We investigated this hypothesis by characterizing the class I genes of the tammar wallaby, a model marsupial that has a novel MHC organization, with class I genes located within the MHC and 10 other chromosomal locations.
Sequence analysis of 14 BACs containing 15 class I genes revealed that nine class I genes, including one to three classical class I, are not linked to the MHC but are scattered throughout the genome. Kangaroo Endogenous Retroviruses (KERVs) were identified flanking the MHC un-linked class I. The wallaby MHC contains four non-classical class I, interspersed with antigen processing genes. Clear orthologs of non-classical class I are conserved in distant marsupial lineages.
We demonstrate that classical class I genes are not linked to antigen processing genes in the wallaby and provide evidence that retroviral elements were involved in their movement. The presence of retroviral elements most likely facilitated the formation of recombination hotspots and subsequent diversification of class I genes. The classical class I have moved away from antigen processing genes in eutherian mammals and the wallaby independently, but both lineages appear to have benefited from this loss of linkage by increasing the number of classical genes, perhaps enabling response to a wider range of pathogens. The discovery of non-classical orthologs between distantly related marsupial species is unusual for the rapidly evolving class I genes and may indicate an important marsupial specific function.
PMCID: PMC2719672  PMID: 19602235
2.  Evolution and comparative analysis of the MHC Class III inflammatory region 
BMC Genomics  2006;7:281.
The Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) is essential for immune function. Historically, it has been subdivided into three regions (Class I, II, and III), but a cluster of functionally related genes within the Class III region has also been referred to as the Class IV region or "inflammatory region". This group of genes is involved in the inflammatory response, and includes members of the tumour necrosis family. Here we report the sequencing, annotation and comparative analysis of a tammar wallaby BAC containing the inflammatory region. We also discuss the extent of sequence conservation across the entire region and identify elements conserved in evolution.
Fourteen Class III genes from the tammar wallaby inflammatory region were characterised and compared to their orthologues in other vertebrates. The organisation and sequence of genes in the inflammatory region of both the wallaby and South American opossum are highly conserved compared to known genes from eutherian ("placental") mammals. Some minor differences separate the two marsupial species. Eight genes within the inflammatory region have remained tightly clustered for at least 360 million years, predating the divergence of the amphibian lineage. Analysis of sequence conservation identified 354 elements that are conserved. These range in size from 7 to 431 bases and cover 15.6% of the inflammatory region, representing approximately a 4-fold increase compared to the average for vertebrate genomes. About 5.5% of this conserved sequence is marsupial-specific, including three cases of marsupial-specific repeats. Highly Conserved Elements were also characterised.
Using comparative analysis, we show that a cluster of MHC genes involved in inflammation, including TNF, LTA (or its putative teleost homolog TNF-N), APOM, and BAT3 have remained together for over 450 million years, predating the divergence of mammals from fish. The observed enrichment in conserved sequences within the inflammatory region suggests conservation at the transcriptional regulatory level, in addition to the functional level.
PMCID: PMC1654159  PMID: 17081307
3.  Retrotransposon Silencing by DNA Methylation Can Drive Mammalian Genomic Imprinting 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(4):e55.
Among mammals, only eutherians and marsupials are viviparous and have genomic imprinting that leads to parent-of-origin-specific differential gene expression. We used comparative analysis to investigate the origin of genomic imprinting in mammals. PEG10 (paternally expressed 10) is a retrotransposon-derived imprinted gene that has an essential role for the formation of the placenta of the mouse. Here, we show that an orthologue of PEG10 exists in another therian mammal, the marsupial tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii), but not in a prototherian mammal, the egg-laying platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), suggesting its close relationship to the origin of placentation in therian mammals. We have discovered a hitherto missing link of the imprinting mechanism between eutherians and marsupials because tammar PEG10 is the first example of a differentially methylated region (DMR) associated with genomic imprinting in marsupials. Surprisingly, the marsupial DMR was strictly limited to the 5′ region of PEG10, unlike the eutherian DMR, which covers the promoter regions of both PEG10 and the adjacent imprinted gene SGCE. These results not only demonstrate a common origin of the DMR-associated imprinting mechanism in therian mammals but provide the first demonstration that DMR-associated genomic imprinting in eutherians can originate from the repression of exogenous DNA sequences and/or retrotransposons by DNA methylation.
Author Summary
Genomic imprinting is a gene regulatory mechanism controlling parent-of-origin-dependent expression of genes. In eutherians, imprinting is essential for fetal and placental development and defects in this mechanism are the cause of several genetic disorders. In eutherian mammals, genomic imprinting is controlled by differential methylation of the DNA. However, no such methylation-dependent mechanism had been previously identified in association with marsupial imprinting. By comparing the genome of all three extant classes of mammals (eutherians, marsupials, and monotremes), we have investigated the evolution of PEG10 (paternally expressed 10), a retrotransposon-derived imprinted gene that is essential for the formation of the placenta in the mouse. PEG10 was present in a marsupial species, the tammar wallaby, but absent from an egg-laying monotreme species, the platypus. Therefore, PEG10 was inserted into the genome at the time when the placenta and viviparity were evolving in therian mammals. This study has shown that PEG10 is not only imprinted in a marsupial, but that its imprint is regulated by differential methylation, suggesting a common origin for methylation in the therian ancestor. These results provide direct evidence that retrotransposon insertion can drive the evolution of genomic imprinting in mammals.
PMCID: PMC1851980  PMID: 17432937
4.  A second-generation anchored genetic linkage map of the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii) 
BMC Genetics  2011;12:72.
The tammar wallaby, Macropus eugenii, a small kangaroo used for decades for studies of reproduction and metabolism, is the model Australian marsupial for genome sequencing and genetic investigations. The production of a more comprehensive cytogenetically-anchored genetic linkage map will significantly contribute to the deciphering of the tammar wallaby genome. It has great value as a resource to identify novel genes and for comparative studies, and is vital for the ongoing genome sequence assembly and gene ordering in this species.
A second-generation anchored tammar wallaby genetic linkage map has been constructed based on a total of 148 loci. The linkage map contains the original 64 loci included in the first-generation map, plus an additional 84 microsatellite loci that were chosen specifically to increase coverage and assist with the anchoring and orientation of linkage groups to chromosomes. These additional loci were derived from (a) sequenced BAC clones that had been previously mapped to tammar wallaby chromosomes by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), (b) End sequence from BACs subsequently FISH-mapped to tammar wallaby chromosomes, and (c) tammar wallaby genes orthologous to opossum genes predicted to fill gaps in the tammar wallaby linkage map as well as three X-linked markers from a published study. Based on these 148 loci, eight linkage groups were formed. These linkage groups were assigned (via FISH-mapped markers) to all seven autosomes and the X chromosome. The sex-pooled map size is 1402.4 cM, which is estimated to provide 82.6% total coverage of the genome, with an average interval distance of 10.9 cM between adjacent markers. The overall ratio of female/male map length is 0.84, which is comparable to the ratio of 0.78 obtained for the first-generation map.
Construction of this second-generation genetic linkage map is a significant step towards complete coverage of the tammar wallaby genome and considerably extends that of the first-generation map. It will be a valuable resource for ongoing tammar wallaby genetic research and assembling the genome sequence. The sex-pooled map is available online at
PMCID: PMC3176194  PMID: 21854616
5.  Reconstruction of the ancestral marsupial karyotype from comparative gene maps 
The increasing number of assembled mammalian genomes makes it possible to compare genome organisation across mammalian lineages and reconstruct chromosomes of the ancestral marsupial and therian (marsupial and eutherian) mammals. However, the reconstruction of ancestral genomes requires genome assemblies to be anchored to chromosomes. The recently sequenced tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii) genome was assembled into over 300,000 contigs. We previously devised an efficient strategy for mapping large evolutionarily conserved blocks in non-model mammals, and applied this to determine the arrangement of conserved blocks on all wallaby chromosomes, thereby permitting comparative maps to be constructed and resolve the long debated issue between a 2n = 14 and 2n = 22 ancestral marsupial karyotype.
We identified large blocks of genes conserved between human and opossum, and mapped genes corresponding to the ends of these blocks by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). A total of 242 genes was assigned to wallaby chromosomes in the present study, bringing the total number of genes mapped to 554 and making it the most densely cytogenetically mapped marsupial genome. We used these gene assignments to construct comparative maps between wallaby and opossum, which uncovered many intrachromosomal rearrangements, particularly for genes found on wallaby chromosomes X and 3. Expanding comparisons to include chicken and human permitted the putative ancestral marsupial (2n = 14) and therian mammal (2n = 19) karyotypes to be reconstructed.
Our physical mapping data for the tammar wallaby has uncovered the events shaping marsupial genomes and enabled us to predict the ancestral marsupial karyotype, supporting a 2n = 14 ancestor. Futhermore, our predicted therian ancestral karyotype has helped to understand the evolution of the ancestral eutherian genome.
PMCID: PMC4222502  PMID: 24261750
Comparative genomics; Comparative mapping; Physical map; Marsupial; Ancestral karyotype
6.  Characterisation of marsupial PHLDA2 reveals eutherian specific acquisition of imprinting 
Genomic imprinting causes parent-of-origin specific gene expression by differential epigenetic modifications between two parental genomes. We previously reported that there is no evidence of genomic imprinting of CDKN1C in the KCNQ1 domain in the placenta of an Australian marsupial, the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii) whereas tammar IGF2 and H19, located adjacent to the KCNQ1 domain in eutherian mammals, are imprinted. We have now identified and characterised the marsupial orthologue of PHLDA2, another gene in the KCNQ1 domain (also known as IPL or TSSC3) that is imprinted in eutherians. In mice, Phlda2 is a dose-sensitive negative regulator of placental growth, as Cdkn1c is for embryonic growth.
Tammar PHLDA2 is highly expressed in the yolk sac placenta compared to other fetal tissues, confirming a similar expression pattern to that of mouse Phlda2. However, tammar PHLDA2 is biallelically expressed in both the fetus and yolk sac placenta, so it is not imprinted. The lack of imprinting in tammar PHLDA2 suggests that the acquisition of genomic imprinting of the KCNQ1 domain in eutherian mammals, accompanied with gene dosage reduction, occurred after the split of the therian mammals into the marsupials and eutherians.
Our results confirm the idea that acquisition of genomic imprinting in the KCNQ1 domain occurred specifically in the eutherian lineage after the divergence of marsupials, even though imprinting of the adjacent IGF2-H19 domain arose before the marsupial-eutherian split. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that genomic imprinting of the KCNQ1 domain may have contributed to the evolution of more complex placentation in the eutherian lineage by reduction of the gene dosage of negative regulators for both embryonic and placental growth.
PMCID: PMC3170258  PMID: 21854573
7.  Paternal X inactivation does not correlate with X chromosome evolutionary strata in marsupials 
BMC Evolutionary Biology  2014;14(1):267.
X chromosome inactivation is the transcriptional silencing of one X chromosome in the somatic cells of female mammals. In eutherian mammals (e.g. humans) one of the two X chromosomes is randomly chosen for silencing, with about 15% (usually in younger evolutionary strata of the X chromosome) of genes escaping this silencing. In contrast, in the distantly related marsupial mammals the paternally derived X is silenced, although not as completely as the eutherian X. A chromosome wide examination of X inactivation, using RNA-seq, was recently undertaken in grey short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica) brain and extraembryonic tissues. However, no such study has been conduced in Australian marsupials, which diverged from their American cousins ~80 million years ago, leaving a large gap in our understanding of marsupial X inactivation.
We used RNA-seq data from blood or liver of a family (mother, father and daughter) of tammar wallabies (Macropus eugenii), which in conjunction with available genome sequence from the mother and father, permitted genotyping of 42 expressed heterozygous SNPs on the daughter’s X. These 42 SNPs represented 34 X loci, of which 68% (23 of the 34) were confirmed as inactivated on the paternally derived X in the daughter’s liver; the remaining 11 X loci escaped inactivation. Seven of the wallaby loci sampled were part of the old X evolutionary stratum, of which three escaped inactivation. Three loci were classified as part of the newer X stratum, of which two escaped inactivation. A meta-analysis of previously published opossum X inactivation data revealed that 5 of 52 genes in the old X stratum escaped inactivation.
We demonstrate that chromosome wide inactivation of the paternal X is common to an Australian marsupial representative, but that there is more escape from inactivation than reported for opossum (32% v 14%). We also provide evidence that, unlike the human X chromosome, the location of loci within the oldest evolutionary stratum on the marsupial X does not correlate with their probability of escape from inactivation.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12862-014-0267-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4302592  PMID: 25539578
X inactivation; Marsupial; Imprinting; X chromosome; Escape; RNA-seq; SNP; Evolution; Strata
8.  Postnatal epigenetic reprogramming in the germline of a marsupial, the tammar wallaby 
Epigenetic reprogramming is essential to restore totipotency and to reset genomic imprints during mammalian germ cell development and gamete formation. The dynamic DNA methylation change at DMRs (differentially methylated regions) within imprinted domains and of retrotransposons is characteristic of this process. Both marsupials and eutherian mammals have genomic imprinting but these two subgroups have been evolving separately for up to 160 million years. Marsupials have a unique reproductive strategy and deliver tiny, altricial young that complete their development within their mother's pouch. Germ cell proliferation in the genital ridge continues after birth in the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii), and it is only after 25 days postpartum that female germ cells begin to enter meiosis and male germ cells begin to enter mitotic arrest. At least two marsupial imprinted loci (PEG10 and H19) also have DMRs. To investigate the evolution of epigenetic reprogramming in the marsupial germline, here we collected germ cells from male pouch young of the tammar wallaby and analysed the methylation status of PEG10 and H19 DMR, an LTR (long terminal repeat) and a non-LTR retrotransposons.
Demethylation of the H19 DMR was almost completed by 14 days postpartum and de-novo methylation started from 34 days postpartum. These stages correspond to 14 days after the completion of primordial germ cell migration into genital ridge (demethylation) and 9 days after the first detection of mitotic arrest (re-methylation) in the male germ cells. Interestingly, the PEG10 DMR was already unmethylated at 7 days postpartum, suggesting that the timing of epigenetic reprogramming is not the same at all genomic loci. Retrotransposon methylation was not completely removed after the demethylation event in the germ cells, similar to the situation in the mouse.
Thus, despite the postnatal occurrence of epigenetic reprogramming and the persistence of genome-wide undermethylation for 20 days in the postnatal tammar, the relative timing and mechanism of germ cell reprogramming are conserved between marsupials and eutherians. We suggest that the basic mechanism of epigenetic reprogramming had already been established before the marsupial-eutherian split and has been faithfully maintained for at least 160 million years and may reflect the timing of the onset of mitotic arrest in the male germline.
PMCID: PMC3687581  PMID: 23732002
Epigenetic reprogramming; Genomic imprinting; Marsupial germ cells; Germ cell methylation
9.  A first-generation integrated tammar wallaby map and its use in creating a tammar wallaby first-generation virtual genome map 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:422.
The limited (2X) coverage of the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii) genome sequence dataset currently presents a challenge for assembly and anchoring onto chromosomes. To provide a framework for this assembly, it would be a great advantage to have a dense map of the tammar wallaby genome. However, only limited mapping data are available for this non-model species, comprising a physical map and a linkage map.
We combined all available tammar wallaby mapping data to create a tammar wallaby integrated map, using the Location DataBase (LDB) strategy. This first-generation integrated map combines all available information from the second-generation tammar wallaby linkage map with 148 loci, and extensive FISH mapping data for 492 loci, especially for genes likely to be located at the ends of wallaby chromosomes or at evolutionary breakpoints inferred from comparative information. For loci whose positions are only approximately known, their location in the integrated map was refined on the basis of comparative information from opossum (Monodelphis domestica) and human. Interpolation of segments from the opossum and human assemblies into the integrated map enabled the subsequent construction of a tammar wallaby first-generation virtual genome map, which comprises 14336 markers, including 13783 genes recruited from opossum and human assemblies. Both maps are freely available at
The first-generation integrated map and the first-generation virtual genome map provide a backbone for the chromosome assembly of the tammar wallaby genome sequence. For example, 78% of the 10257 gene-scaffolds in the Ensembl annotation of the tammar wallaby genome sequence (including 10522 protein-coding genes) can now be given a chromosome location in the tammar wallaby virtual genome map.
PMCID: PMC3170641  PMID: 21854555
10.  Unique small RNA signatures uncovered in the tammar wallaby genome 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:559.
Small RNAs have proven to be essential regulatory molecules encoded within eukaryotic genomes. These short RNAs participate in a diverse array of cellular processes including gene regulation, chromatin dynamics and genome defense. The tammar wallaby, a marsupial mammal, is a powerful comparative model for studying the evolution of regulatory networks. As part of the genome sequencing initiative for the tammar, we have explored the evolution of each of the major classes of mammalian small RNAs in an Australian marsupial for the first time, including the first genome-scale analysis of the newest class of small RNAs, centromere repeat associated short interacting RNAs (crasiRNAs).
Using next generation sequencing, we have characterized the major classes of small RNAs, micro (mi) RNAs, piwi interacting (pi) RNAs, and the centromere repeat associated short interacting (crasi) RNAs in the tammar. We examined each of these small RNA classes with respect to the newly assembled tammar wallaby genome for gene and repeat features, salient features that define their canonical sequences, and the constitution of both highly conserved and species-specific members. Using a combination of miRNA hairpin predictions and co-mapping with miRBase entries, we identified a highly conserved cluster of miRNA genes on the X chromosome in the tammar and a total of 94 other predicted miRNA producing genes. Mapping all miRNAs to the tammar genome and comparing target genes among tammar, mouse and human, we identified 163 conserved target genes. An additional nine genes were identified in tammar that do not have an orthologous miRNA target in human and likely represent novel miRNA-regulated genes in the tammar. A survey of the tammar gonadal piRNAs shows that these small RNAs are enriched in retroelements and carry members from both marsupial and tammar-specific repeat classes. Lastly, this study includes the first in-depth analyses of the newly discovered crasiRNAs. These small RNAs are derived largely from centromere-enriched retroelements, including a novel SINE.
This study encompasses the first analyses of the major classes of small RNAs for the newly completed tammar genome, validates preliminary annotations using deep sequencing and computational approaches, and provides a foundation for future work on tammar-specific as well as conserved, but previously unknown small RNA progenitors and targets identified herein. The characterization of new miRNA target genes and a unique profile for crasiRNAs has allowed for insight into multiple RNA mediated processes in the tammar, including gene regulation, species incompatibilities, centromere and chromosome function.
PMCID: PMC3576234  PMID: 23075437
11.  Genome sequence of an Australian kangaroo, Macropus eugenii, provides insight into the evolution of mammalian reproduction and development 
Renfree, Marilyn B | Papenfuss, Anthony T | Deakin, Janine E | Lindsay, James | Heider, Thomas | Belov, Katherine | Rens, Willem | Waters, Paul D | Pharo, Elizabeth A | Shaw, Geoff | Wong, Emily SW | Lefèvre, Christophe M | Nicholas, Kevin R | Kuroki, Yoko | Wakefield, Matthew J | Zenger, Kyall R | Wang, Chenwei | Ferguson-Smith, Malcolm | Nicholas, Frank W | Hickford, Danielle | Yu, Hongshi | Short, Kirsty R | Siddle, Hannah V | Frankenberg, Stephen R | Chew, Keng Yih | Menzies, Brandon R | Stringer, Jessica M | Suzuki, Shunsuke | Hore, Timothy A | Delbridge, Margaret L | Mohammadi, Amir | Schneider, Nanette Y | Hu, Yanqiu | O'Hara, William | Al Nadaf, Shafagh | Wu, Chen | Feng, Zhi-Ping | Cocks, Benjamin G | Wang, Jianghui | Flicek, Paul | Searle, Stephen MJ | Fairley, Susan | Beal, Kathryn | Herrero, Javier | Carone, Dawn M | Suzuki, Yutaka | Sugano, Sumio | Toyoda, Atsushi | Sakaki, Yoshiyuki | Kondo, Shinji | Nishida, Yuichiro | Tatsumoto, Shoji | Mandiou, Ion | Hsu, Arthur | McColl, Kaighin A | Lansdell, Benjamin | Weinstock, George | Kuczek, Elizabeth | McGrath, Annette | Wilson, Peter | Men, Artem | Hazar-Rethinam, Mehlika | Hall, Allison | Davis, John | Wood, David | Williams, Sarah | Sundaravadanam, Yogi | Muzny, Donna M | Jhangiani, Shalini N | Lewis, Lora R | Morgan, Margaret B | Okwuonu, Geoffrey O | Ruiz, San Juana | Santibanez, Jireh | Nazareth, Lynne | Cree, Andrew | Fowler, Gerald | Kovar, Christie L | Dinh, Huyen H | Joshi, Vandita | Jing, Chyn | Lara, Fremiet | Thornton, Rebecca | Chen, Lei | Deng, Jixin | Liu, Yue | Shen, Joshua Y | Song, Xing-Zhi | Edson, Janette | Troon, Carmen | Thomas, Daniel | Stephens, Amber | Yapa, Lankesha | Levchenko, Tanya | Gibbs, Richard A | Cooper, Desmond W | Speed, Terence P | Fujiyama, Asao | M Graves, Jennifer A | O'Neill, Rachel J | Pask, Andrew J | Forrest, Susan M | Worley, Kim C
Genome Biology  2011;12(8):R81.
We present the genome sequence of the tammar wallaby, Macropus eugenii, which is a member of the kangaroo family and the first representative of the iconic hopping mammals that symbolize Australia to be sequenced. The tammar has many unusual biological characteristics, including the longest period of embryonic diapause of any mammal, extremely synchronized seasonal breeding and prolonged and sophisticated lactation within a well-defined pouch. Like other marsupials, it gives birth to highly altricial young, and has a small number of very large chromosomes, making it a valuable model for genomics, reproduction and development.
The genome has been sequenced to 2 × coverage using Sanger sequencing, enhanced with additional next generation sequencing and the integration of extensive physical and linkage maps to build the genome assembly. We also sequenced the tammar transcriptome across many tissues and developmental time points. Our analyses of these data shed light on mammalian reproduction, development and genome evolution: there is innovation in reproductive and lactational genes, rapid evolution of germ cell genes, and incomplete, locus-specific X inactivation. We also observe novel retrotransposons and a highly rearranged major histocompatibility complex, with many class I genes located outside the complex. Novel microRNAs in the tammar HOX clusters uncover new potential mammalian HOX regulatory elements.
Analyses of these resources enhance our understanding of marsupial gene evolution, identify marsupial-specific conserved non-coding elements and critical genes across a range of biological systems, including reproduction, development and immunity, and provide new insight into marsupial and mammalian biology and genome evolution.
PMCID: PMC3277949  PMID: 21854559
12.  The Evolution of the DLK1-DIO3 Imprinted Domain in Mammals 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(6):e135.
A comprehensive, domain-wide comparative analysis of genomic imprinting between mammals that imprint and those that do not can provide valuable information about how and why imprinting evolved. The imprinting status, DNA methylation, and genomic landscape of the Dlk1-Dio3 cluster were determined in eutherian, metatherian, and prototherian mammals including tammar wallaby and platypus. Imprinting across the whole domain evolved after the divergence of eutherian from marsupial mammals and in eutherians is under strong purifying selection. The marsupial locus at 1.6 megabases, is double that of eutherians due to the accumulation of LINE repeats. Comparative sequence analysis of the domain in seven vertebrates determined evolutionary conserved regions common to particular sub-groups and to all vertebrates. The emergence of Dlk1-Dio3 imprinting in eutherians has occurred on the maternally inherited chromosome and is associated with region-specific resistance to expansion by repetitive elements and the local introduction of noncoding transcripts including microRNAs and C/D small nucleolar RNAs. A recent mammal-specific retrotransposition event led to the formation of a completely new gene only in the eutherian domain, which may have driven imprinting at the cluster.
Author Summary
Mammals have two copies of each gene in their somatic cells, and most of these gene pairs are regulated and expressed simultaneously. A fraction of mammalian genes, however, is subject to imprinting—a chemical modification that marks a gene according to its parental origin, so that one parent's copy is expressed while the other parent's copy is silenced. How and why this process evolved is the subject of much speculation. Here we have shown that all the genes in one genomic region, Dlk1-Dio3, which are imprinted in placental mammals such as mouse and human, are not imprinted in marsupial (wallaby) or monotreme (platypus) mammals. This is in contrast to a small number of other imprinted genes that are imprinted in marsupials and other therian mammals and indicates that imprinting arose at each genomic domain at different stages of mammalian evolution. We have compared the sequence of the Dlk1-Dio3 region between seven vertebrate species and identified sequences that are differentially represented in mammals that imprint compared to those that do not. Our data indicate that once imprinted gene regulation is acquired in a domain, it becomes evolutionarily constrained to remain unchanged.
A comparative analysis of genomic imprinting between mammals that imprint and those that don't has provided insights into how and why imprinting evolved.
PMCID: PMC2408620  PMID: 18532878
13.  Distinct retroelement classes define evolutionary breakpoints demarcating sites of evolutionary novelty 
BMC Genomics  2009;10:334.
Large-scale genome rearrangements brought about by chromosome breaks underlie numerous inherited diseases, initiate or promote many cancers and are also associated with karyotype diversification during species evolution. Recent research has shown that these breakpoints are nonrandomly distributed throughout the mammalian genome and many, termed "evolutionary breakpoints" (EB), are specific genomic locations that are "reused" during karyotypic evolution. When the phylogenetic trajectory of orthologous chromosome segments is considered, many of these EB are coincident with ancient centromere activity as well as new centromere formation. While EB have been characterized as repeat-rich regions, it has not been determined whether specific sequences have been retained during evolution that would indicate previous centromere activity or a propensity for new centromere formation. Likewise, the conservation of specific sequence motifs or classes at EBs among divergent mammalian taxa has not been determined.
To define conserved sequence features of EBs associated with centromere evolution, we performed comparative sequence analysis of more than 4.8 Mb within the tammar wallaby, Macropus eugenii, derived from centromeric regions (CEN), euchromatic regions (EU), and an evolutionary breakpoint (EB) that has undergone convergent breakpoint reuse and past centromere activity in marsupials. We found a dramatic enrichment for long interspersed nucleotide elements (LINE1s) and endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) and a depletion of short interspersed nucleotide elements (SINEs) shared between CEN and EBs. We analyzed the orthologous human EB (14q32.33), known to be associated with translocations in many cancers including multiple myelomas and plasma cell leukemias, and found a conserved distribution of similar repetitive elements.
Our data indicate that EBs tracked within the class Mammalia harbor sequence features retained since the divergence of marsupials and eutherians that may have predisposed these genomic regions to large-scale chromosomal instability.
PMCID: PMC2736999  PMID: 19630942
14.  Identification of tammar wallaby SIRH12, derived from a marsupial-specific retrotransposition event 
In humans and mice, there are 11 genes derived from sushi-ichi related retrotransposons, some of which are known to play essential roles in placental development. Interestingly, this family of retrotransposons was thought to exist only in eutherian mammals, indicating their significant contributions to the eutherian evolution, but at least one, PEG10, is conserved between marsupials and eutherians. Here we report a novel sushi-ichi retrotransposon-derived gene, SIRH12, in the tammar wallaby, an Australian marsupial species of the kangaroo family. SIRH12 encodes a protein highly homologous to the sushi-ichi retrotransposon Gag protein in the tammar wallaby, while SIRH12 in the South American short-tailed grey opossum is a pseudogene degenerated by accumulation of multiple nonsense mutations. This suggests that SIRH12 retrotransposition occurred only in the marsupial lineage but acquired and retained some as yet unidentified novel function, at least in the lineage of the tammar wallaby.
PMCID: PMC3158469  PMID: 21636603
retrotransposon; evolution of mammals; marsupials
15.  Expression and protein localisation of IGF2 in the marsupial placenta 
In eutherian mammals, genomic imprinting is critical for normal placentation and embryo survival. Insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2) is imprinted in the placenta of both eutherians and marsupials, but its function, or that of any imprinted gene, has not been investigated in any marsupial. This study examines the role of IGF2 in the yolk sac placenta of the tammar wallaby, Macropus eugenii.
IGF2 mRNA and protein were produced in the marsupial placenta. Both IGF2 receptors were present in the placenta, and presumably mediate IGF2 mitogenic actions. IGF2 mRNA levels were highest in the vascular region of the yolk sac placenta. IGF2 increased vascular endothelial growth factor expression in placental explant cultures, suggesting that IGF2 promotes vascularisation of the yolk sac.
This is the first demonstration of a physiological role for any imprinted gene in marsupial placentation. The conserved imprinting of IGF2 in this marsupial and in all eutherian species so far investigated, but not in monotremes, suggests that imprinting of this gene may have originated in the placenta of the therian ancestor.
PMCID: PMC2276195  PMID: 18284703
16.  Identification and expression of a novel marsupial cathelicidin from the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii) 
Cathelicidins are important components of the innate immune system and have been identified in skin and epithelia of a range of mammals. In this study molecular techniques, including RACE-PCR, were used to identify the full cDNA sequence of a cathelicidin gene, MaeuCath8, from the Australian marsupial, the tammar wallaby, Macropus eugenii. This cathelicidin was not homologous to other such genes previously isolated from a tammar wallaby mammary gland EST library, however, it did contain 4 conserved cysteine residues which characterise the pre-propeptide and had 80% identity with a previously isolated bandicoot cathelicidin. Reverse transcriptase-PCR established the expression profile of MaeuCath8 in a range of tissues, including spleen, thymus, gastrointestinal tract, skin and liver, of the tammar wallaby from birth to adulthood. Expression of MaeuCath8 was observed in spleen and gastrointestinal tract of newborn animals and was observed in most tissues by 7 days post-partum. The results indicate that pouch young could synthesize their own antimicrobial peptides from an early age suggesting that this ability most likely plays a role in protecting the pouch young from infection prior to the development of immunocompetence.
PMCID: PMC2887693  PMID: 19046773
Cathelicidin; Antimicrobial peptide; Marsupials; RACE-PCR; m-RNA expression
17.  Differential roles of TGIF family genes in mammalian reproduction 
TG-interacting factors (TGIFs) belong to a family of TALE-homeodomain proteins including TGIF1, TGIF2 and TGIFLX/Y in human. Both TGIF1 and TGIF2 act as transcription factors repressing TGF-β signalling. Human TGIFLX and its orthologue, Tex1 in the mouse, are X-linked genes that are only expressed in the adult testis. TGIF2 arose from TGIF1 by duplication, whereas TGIFLX arose by retrotransposition to the X-chromosome. These genes have not been characterised in any non-eutherian mammals. We therefore studied the TGIF family in the tammar wallaby (a marsupial mammal) to investigate their roles in reproduction and how and when these genes may have evolved their functions and chromosomal locations.
Both TGIF1 and TGIF2 were present in the tammar genome on autosomes but TGIFLX was absent. Tammar TGIF1 shared a similar expression pattern during embryogenesis, sexual differentiation and in adult tissues to that of TGIF1 in eutherian mammals, suggesting it has been functionally conserved. Tammar TGIF2 was ubiquitously expressed throughout early development as in the human and mouse, but in the adult, it was expressed only in the gonads and spleen, more like the expression pattern of human TGIFLX and mouse Tex1. Tammar TGIF2 mRNA was specifically detected in round and elongated spermatids. There was no mRNA detected in mature spermatozoa. TGIF2 protein was specifically located in the cytoplasm of spermatids, and in the residual body and the mid-piece of the mature sperm tail. These data suggest that tammar TGIF2 may participate in spermiogenesis, like TGIFLX does in eutherians. TGIF2 was detected for the first time in the ovary with mRNA produced in the granulosa and theca cells, suggesting it may also play a role in folliculogenesis.
The restricted and very similar expression of tammar TGIF2 to X-linked paralogues in eutherians suggests that the evolution of TGIF1, TGIF2 and TGIFLX in eutherians was accompanied by a change from ubiquitous to tissue-specific expression. The distribution and localization of TGIF2 in tammar adult gonads suggest that there has been an ultra-conserved function for the TGIF family in fertility and that TGIF2 already functioned in spermatogenesis and potentially folliculogenesis long before its retrotransposition to the X-chromosome of eutherian mammals. These results also provide further evidence that the eutherian X-chromosome has actively recruited sex and reproductive-related genes during mammalian evolution.
PMCID: PMC3204290  PMID: 21958027
18.  Functional Gene Analysis Suggests Different Acetogen Populations in the Bovine Rumen and Tammar Wallaby Forestomach ▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2010;76(23):7785-7795.
Reductive acetogenesis via the acetyl coenzyme A (acetyl-CoA) pathway is an alternative hydrogen sink to methanogenesis in the rumen. Functional gene-based analysis is the ideal approach for investigating organisms capable of this metabolism (acetogens). However, existing tools targeting the formyltetrahydrofolate synthetase gene (fhs) are compromised by lack of specificity due to the involvement of formyltetrahydrofolate synthetase (FTHFS) in other pathways. Acetyl-CoA synthase (ACS) is unique to the acetyl-CoA pathway and, in the present study, acetyl-CoA synthase genes (acsB) were recovered from a range of acetogens to facilitate the design of acsB-specific PCR primers. fhs and acsB libraries were used to examine acetogen diversity in the bovine rumen and forestomach of the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii), a native Australian marsupial demonstrating foregut fermentation analogous to rumen fermentation but resulting in lower methane emissions. Novel, deduced amino acid sequences of acsB and fhs affiliated with the Lachnospiraceae in both ecosystems and the Ruminococcaeae/Blautia group in the rumen. FTHFS sequences that probably originated from nonacetogens were identified by low “homoacetogen similarity” scores based on analysis of FTHFS residues, and comprised a large proportion of FTHFS sequences from the tammar wallaby forestomach. A diversity of FTHFS and ACS sequences in both ecosystems clustered between the Lachnospiraceae and Clostridiaceae acetogens but without close sequences from cultured isolates. These sequences probably originated from novel acetogens. The community structures of the acsB and fhs libraries from the rumen and the tammar wallaby forestomach were different (LIBSHUFF, P < 0.001), and these differences may have significance for overall hydrogenotrophy in both ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC2988603  PMID: 20889794
19.  Identification of a Novel PNMA-MS1 Gene in Marsupials Suggests the LTR Retrotransposon-Derived PNMA Genes Evolved Differently in Marsupials and Eutherians 
Two major gene families derived from Ty3/Gypsy long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposons were recently identified in mammals. The sushi-ichi retrotransposon homologue (SIRH) family comprises 12 genes: 11 in eutherians including Peg10 and Peg11/Rtl1 that have essential roles in the eutherian placenta and 1 that is marsupial specific. Fifteen and 12 genes were reported in the second gene family, para-neoplastic antigen MA (PNMA), in humans and mice, respectively, although their biological functions and evolutionary history remain largely unknown. Here, we identified two novel candidate PNMA genes, PNMA-MS1 and -MS2 in marsupials. Like all eutherian-specific PNMA genes, they exhibit the highest homology to a Gypsy12_DR (DR, Danio rerio) Gag protein. PNMA-MS1 is conserved in both Australian and South American marsupial species, the tammar wallaby and grey short-tailed opossum. However, no PNMA-MS1 orthologue was found in eutherians, monotremes or non-mammalian vertebrates. PNMA-MS1 was expressed in the ovary, mammary gland and brain during development and growth in the tammar, suggesting that PNMA-MS1 may have acquired a marsupial-specific function. However, PNMA-MS2 seems to be a pseudogene. The absence of marsupial orthologues of eutherian PNMA genes suggests that the retrotransposition events of the Gypsy12_DR-related retrotransposons that gave rise to the PNMA family occurred after the divergence of marsupials and eutherians.
PMCID: PMC3789554  PMID: 23704700
LTR retrotransposons; PNMA family; marsupial-specific genes; mammalian evolution
20.  Isolation, X location and activity of the marsupial homologue of SLC16A2, an XIST-flanking gene in eutherian mammals 
X chromosome inactivation (XCI) achieves dosage compensation between males and females for most X-linked genes in eutherian mammals. It is a whole-chromosome effect under the control of the XIST locus, although some genes escape inactivation. Marsupial XCI differs from the eutherian process, implying fundamental changes in the XCI mechanism during the evolution of the two lineages. There is no direct evidence for the existence of a marsupial XIST homologue. XCI has been studied for only a handful of genes in any marsupial, and none in the model kangaroo Macropus eugenii (the tammar wallaby). We have therefore studied the sequence, location and activity of a gene SLC16A2 (solute carrier, family 16, class A, member 2) that flanks XIST on the human and mouse X chromosomes. A BAC clone containing the marsupial SLC16A2 was mapped to the end of the long arm of the tammar X chromosome and used in RNA FISH experiments to determine whether one or both loci are transcribed in female cells. In male and female cells, only a single signal was found, indicating that the marsupial SLC16A2 gene is silenced on the inactivated X.
PMCID: PMC2819140  PMID: 16235118
marsupial; SLC16A2 gene; X chromosome evolution; X chromosome inactivation
21.  Placental expression of pituitary hormones is an ancestral feature of therian mammals 
EvoDevo  2011;2:16.
The placenta is essential for supplying nutrients and gases to the developing mammalian young before birth. While all mammals have a functional placenta, only in therian mammals (marsupials and eutherians) does the placenta closely appose or invade the uterine endometrium. The eutherian placenta secretes hormones that are structurally and functionally similar to pituitary growth hormone (GH), prolactin (PRL) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Marsupial and eutherian mammals diverged from a common ancestor approximately 125 to 148 million years ago and developed distinct reproductive strategies. As in eutherians, marsupials rely on a short-lived but functional placenta for embryogenesis.
We characterized pituitary GH, GH-R, IGF-2, PRL and LHβ in a macropodid marsupial, the tammar wallaby, Macropus eugenii. These genes were expressed in the tammar placenta during the last third of gestation when most fetal growth occurs and active organogenesis is initiated. The mRNA of key growth genes GH, GH-R, IGF-2 and PRL were expressed during late pregnancy. We found significant up-regulation of GH, GH-R and IGF-2 after the start of the rapid growth phase of organogenesis which suggests that the placental growth hormones regulate the rapid phase of fetal growth.
This is the first demonstration of the existence of pituitary hormones in the marsupial placenta. Placental expression of these pituitary hormones has clearly been conserved in marsupials as in eutherian mammals, suggesting an ancestral origin of the evolution of placental expression and a critical function of these hormones in growth and development of all therian mammals.
PMCID: PMC3170617  PMID: 21854600
22.  The Evolution of Epigenetic Regulators CTCF and BORIS/CTCFL in Amniotes 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(8):e1000169.
CTCF is an essential, ubiquitously expressed DNA-binding protein responsible for insulator function, nuclear architecture, and transcriptional control within vertebrates. The gene CTCF was proposed to have duplicated in early mammals, giving rise to a paralogue called “brother of regulator of imprinted sites” (BORIS or CTCFL) with DNA binding capabilities similar to CTCF, but testis-specific expression in humans and mice. CTCF and BORIS have opposite regulatory effects on human cancer-testis genes, the anti-apoptotic BAG1 gene, the insulin-like growth factor 2/H19 imprint control region (IGF2/H19 ICR), and show mutually exclusive expression in humans and mice, suggesting that they are antagonistic epigenetic regulators. We discovered orthologues of BORIS in at least two reptilian species and found traces of its sequence in the chicken genome, implying that the duplication giving rise to BORIS occurred much earlier than previously thought. We analysed the expression of CTCF and BORIS in a range of amniotes by conventional and quantitative PCR. BORIS, as well as CTCF, was found widely expressed in monotremes (platypus) and reptiles (bearded dragon), suggesting redundancy or cooperation between these genes in a common amniote ancestor. However, we discovered that BORIS expression was gonad-specific in marsupials (tammar wallaby) and eutherians (cattle), implying that a functional change occurred in BORIS during the early evolution of therian mammals. Since therians show imprinting of IGF2 but other vertebrate taxa do not, we speculate that CTCF and BORIS evolved specialised functions along with the evolution of imprinting at this and other loci, coinciding with the restriction of BORIS expression to the germline and potential antagonism with CTCF.
Author Summary
Epigenetic mechanisms heritably change gene expression without altering DNA sequence. Currently, little is known about the evolution of epigenetic traits, and the genes that control them. CTCF is an essential epigenetic regulator that is expressed widely in the tissues of vertebrates and modifies the transcription of genes by altering their location within the nucleus. CTCF duplicated at some time during vertebrate evolution, giving rise to a similar gene called BORIS with expression that is limited to parts of the testes of humans and mice, but whose function is largely unknown. BORIS may contribute to the regulation of genomic imprinting, a form of epigenetic control specific to live-bearing mammals. We discovered BORIS in all mammal groups and reptiles, implying that its genesis from CTCF occurred much earlier than previously thought, preceding genomic imprinting by over 100 million years. CTCF and BORIS have not previously been found expressed together except in tumours, leading to the hypothesis that CTCF and BORIS have conflicting functions that cause cancer when allowed to overlap. We found that CTCF and BORIS are expressed alongside each other in multiple somatic and reproductive tissues of a reptile (bearded dragon) and an egg-laying mammal (platypus), but that BORIS is restricted to the gonads of live-bearing mammals (cattle and wallaby). This indicates that BORIS specialised during mammalian evolution, in concert with the evolution of genomic imprinting.
PMCID: PMC2515639  PMID: 18769711
23.  Activity map of the tammar X chromosome shows that marsupial X inactivation is incomplete and escape is stochastic 
Genome Biology  2010;11(12):R122.
X chromosome inactivation is a spectacular example of epigenetic silencing. In order to deduce how this complex system evolved, we examined X inactivation in a model marsupial, the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii). In marsupials, X inactivation is known to be paternal, incomplete and tissue-specific, and occurs in the absence of an XIST orthologue.
We examined expression of X-borne genes using quantitative PCR, revealing a range of dosage compensation for different loci. To assess the frequency of 1X- or 2X-active fibroblasts, we investigated expression of 32 X-borne genes at the cellular level using RNA-FISH. In female fibroblasts, two-color RNA-FISH showed that genes were coordinately expressed from the same X (active X) in nuclei in which both loci were inactivated. However, loci on the other X escape inactivation independently, with each locus showing a characteristic frequency of 1X-active and 2X-active nuclei, equivalent to stochastic escape. We constructed an activity map of the tammar wallaby inactive X chromosome, which identified no relationship between gene location and extent of inactivation, nor any correlation with the presence or absence of a Y-borne paralog.
In the tammar wallaby, one X (presumed to be maternal) is expressed in all cells, but genes on the other (paternal) X escape inactivation independently and at characteristic frequencies. The paternal and incomplete X chromosome inactivation in marsupials, with stochastic escape, appears to be quite distinct from the X chromosome inactivation process in eutherians. We find no evidence for a polar spread of inactivation from an X inactivation center.
PMCID: PMC3046482  PMID: 21182760
24.  Origin and evolution of candidate mental retardation genes on the human X chromosome (MRX) 
BMC Genomics  2008;9:65.
The human X chromosome has a biased gene content. One group of genes that is over-represented on the human X are those expressed in the brain, explaining the large number of sex-linked mental retardation (MRX) syndromes.
To determine if MRX genes were recruited to the X, or whether their brain-specific functions were acquired after relocation to the mammalian X chromosome, we examined the location and expression of their orthologues in marsupials, which diverged from human approximately 180 million years ago. We isolated and mapped nine tammar wallaby MRX homologues, finding that six were located on the tammar wallaby X (which represents the ancient conserved mammal X) and three on chromosome 5, representing the recently added region of the human X chromosome. The location of MRX genes within the same synteny groups in human and wallaby does not support the hypothesis that genes with an important function in the brain were recruited in multiple independent events from autosomes to the mammalian X chromosome. Most of the tammar wallaby MRX homologues were more widely expressed in tammar wallaby than in human. Only one, the tammar wallaby ARX homologue (located on tammar chromosome 5p), has a restricted expression pattern comparable to its pattern in human. The retention of the brain-specific expression of ARX over 180 million years suggests that this gene plays a fundamental role in mammalian brain development and function.
Our results suggest all the genes in this study may have originally had more general functions that became more specialised and important in brain function during evolution of humans and other placental mammals.
PMCID: PMC2276207  PMID: 18248684
25.  Comparative analysis of the mammalian WNT4 promoter 
BMC Genomics  2009;10:416.
WNT4 is a critical signalling molecule in embryogenesis and homeostasis, but the elements that control its transcriptional regulation are largely unknown. This study uses comparative cross species sequence and functional analyses between humans and a marsupial (the tammar wallaby,Macropus eugenii) to refine the mammalian Wnt4 promoter.
We have defined a highly conserved 89 bp minimal promoter region in human WNT4 by comparative analysis with the tammar wallaby. There are many conserved transcription factor binding sites in the proximal promoter region, including SP1, MyoD, NFκB and AP2, as well as highly conserved CpG islands within the human, mouse and marsupial promoters, suggesting that DNA methylation may play an important role in WNT4 transcriptional regulation.
Using a marsupial model, we have been able to provide new information on the transcriptional regulators in the promoter of this essential mammalian developmental gene, WNT4. These transcription factor binding sites and CpG islands are highly conserved in two disparate mammals, and are likely key controlling elements in the regulation of this essential developmental gene.
PMCID: PMC2758904  PMID: 19732466

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