The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a major laboratory model in biology. Only ten Caenorhabditis species were available in culture at the onset of this study. Many of them, like C. elegans, were mostly isolated from artificial compost heaps, and their more natural habitat was unknown.
Caenorhabditis nematodes were found to be proliferating in rotten fruits, flowers and stems. By collecting a large worldwide set of such samples, 16 new Caenorhabditis species were discovered. We performed mating tests to establish biological species status and found some instances of semi-fertile or sterile hybrid progeny. We established barcodes for all species using ITS2 rDNA sequences. By obtaining sequence data for two rRNA and nine protein-coding genes, we determined the likely phylogenetic relationships among the 26 species in culture. The new species are part of two well-resolved sister clades that we call the Elegans super-group and the Drosophilae super-group. We further scored phenotypic characters such as reproductive mode, mating behavior and male tail morphology, and discuss their congruence with the phylogeny. A small space between rays 2 and 3 evolved once in the stem species of the Elegans super-group; a narrow fan and spiral copulation evolved once in the stem species of C. angaria, C. sp. 8 and C. sp. 12. Several other character changes occurred convergently. For example, hermaphroditism evolved three times independently in C. elegans, C. briggsae and C. sp. 11. Several species can co-occur in the same location or even the same fruit. At the global level, some species have a cosmopolitan distribution: C. briggsae is particularly widespread, while C. elegans and C. remanei are found mostly or exclusively in temperate regions, and C. brenneri and C. sp. 11 exclusively in tropical zones. Other species have limited distributions, for example C. sp. 5 appears to be restricted to China, C. sp. 7 to West Africa and C. sp. 8 to the Eastern United States.
Caenorhabditis are "fruit worms", not soil nematodes. The 16 new species provide a resource and their phylogeny offers a framework for further studies into the evolution of genomic and phenotypic characters.
Caenorhabditis elegans is a preeminent model organism, but the natural ecology of this nematode has been elusive. A four-year survey of French orchards published in BMC Biology reveals thriving populations of C. elegans (and Caenorhabditis briggsae) in rotting fruit and plant stems. Rather than being simply a 'soil nematode', C. elegans appears to be a 'plant-rot nematode'. These studies signal a growing interest in the integrated genomics and ecology of these tractable animals.
See research article http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7007/10/59
In harsh conditions, Caenorhabditis elegans arrests development to enter a non-aging, resistant diapause state called the dauer larva. Olfactory sensation modulates the TGF-β and insulin signaling pathways to control this developmental decision. Four mutant alleles of daf-25 (abnormal DAuer Formation) were isolated from screens for mutants exhibiting constitutive dauer formation and found to be defective in olfaction. The daf-25 dauer phenotype is suppressed by daf-10/IFT122 mutations (which disrupt ciliogenesis), but not by daf-6/PTCHD3 mutations (which prevent environmental exposure of sensory cilia), implying that DAF-25 functions in the cilia themselves. daf-25 encodes the C. elegans ortholog of mammalian Ankmy2, a MYND domain protein of unknown function. Disruption of DAF-25, which localizes to sensory cilia, produces no apparent cilia structure anomalies, as determined by light and electron microscopy. Hinting at its potential function, the dauer phenotype, epistatic order, and expression profile of daf-25 are similar to daf-11, which encodes a cilium-localized guanylyl cyclase. Indeed, we demonstrate that DAF-25 is required for proper DAF-11 ciliary localization. Furthermore, the functional interaction is evolutionarily conserved, as mouse Ankmy2 interacts with guanylyl cyclase GC1 from ciliary photoreceptors. The interaction may be specific because daf-25 mutants have normally-localized OSM-9/TRPV4, TAX-4/CNGA1, CHE-2/IFT80, CHE-11/IFT140, CHE-13/IFT57, BBS-8, OSM-5/IFT88, and XBX-1/D2LIC in the cilia. Intraflagellar transport (IFT) (required to build cilia) is not defective in daf-25 mutants, although the ciliary localization of DAF-25 itself is influenced in che-11 mutants, which are defective in retrograde IFT. In summary, we have discovered a novel ciliary protein that plays an important role in cGMP signaling by localizing a guanylyl cyclase to the sensory organelle.
C. elegans mutants that either fail to form or arrest development as dauer larvae, a stress-resistant lifestage, usually have defects in genes involved in evolutionarily conserved signaling pathways. In this study, we identified the gene mutated in daf-25 mutant strains, which inappropriately arrest as dauer larvae and are also defective in the sense of smell. The mammalian counterpart of DAF-25 is Ankmy2, a protein of unknown function that contains three ankyrin repeats and a zinc finger MYND domain, both of which are predicted to bind other protein(s). We show that DAF-25/Ankmy2 is required for the proper localization of a membrane-bound guanylyl cyclase—a class of protein that functions in cyclic GMP signaling—to cilia, which are conserved sensory organelles. We further demonstrate that mammalian Ankmy2 binds the retinal guanylyl cyclase GC1, suggesting a role for Ankmy2 in vision—which critically depends on cyclic GMP signal transduction—suggesting the potential involvement of Ankmy2 in human retinal disease, as well as other cilia-related diseases such as obesity.
Organisms live in environments that vary. For life-history traits that vary across environments, fitness will be maximised when the phenotype is appropriately matched to the environmental conditions. For the free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, we have investigated how two major life-history traits, (i) the development of environmentally resistant dauer larvae and (ii) reproduction, respond to environmental stress (high population density and low food availability), and how these traits vary between lines and the genetic basis of this variation.
We found that lines of C. elegans vary in their phenotypic plasticity of dauer larva development, i.e. there is variation in the likelihood of developing into a dauer larva for the same environmental change. There was also variation in how lifetime fecundity and the rate of reproduction changed under conditions of environmental stress. These traits were related, such that lines that are highly plastic for dauer larva development also maintain a high population growth rate when stressed. We identified quantitative trait loci (QTL) on two chromosomes that control the dauer larva development and population size phenotypes. The QTLs affecting the dauer larva development and population size phenotypes on chromosome II are closely linked, but are genetically separable. This chromosome II QTL controlling dauer larva development does not encompass any loci previously identified to control dauer larva development. This chromosome II region contains many predicted 7-transmembrane receptors. Such proteins are often involved in information transduction, which is clearly relevant to the control of dauer larva development.
C. elegans alters both its larval development and adult reproductive strategy in response to environmental stress. Together the phenotypic and genotypic data suggest that these two major life-history traits are co-ordinated responses to environmental stress and that they are, at least in part, controlled by the same genomic regions.
Dispersal is an important nematode behavior. Upon crowding or food depletion, the free living bacteriovorus nematode Caenorhabditis elegans produces stress resistant dispersal larvae, called dauer, which are analogous to second stage juveniles (J2) of plant parasitic Meloidogyne spp. and infective juveniles (IJ)s of entomopathogenic nematodes (EPN), e.g., Steinernema feltiae. Regulation of dispersal behavior has not been thoroughly investigated for C. elegans or any other nematode species. Based on the fact that ascarosides regulate entry in dauer stage as well as multiple behaviors in C. elegans adults including mating, avoidance and aggregation, we hypothesized that ascarosides might also be involved in regulation of dispersal behavior in C. elegans and for other nematodes such as IJ of phylogenetically related EPNs.
Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis of C. elegans dauer conditioned media, which shows strong dispersing activity, revealed four known ascarosides (ascr#2, ascr#3, ascr#8, icas#9). A synthetic blend of these ascarosides at physiologically relevant concentrations dispersed C. elegans dauer in the presence of food and also caused dispersion of IJs of S. feltiae and J2s of plant parasitic Meloidogyne spp. Assay guided fractionation revealed structural analogs as major active components of the S. feltiae (ascr#9) and C. elegans (ascr#2) dispersal blends. Further analysis revealed ascr#9 in all Steinernema spp. and Heterorhabditis spp. infected insect host cadavers.
Ascaroside blends represent evolutionarily conserved, fundamentally important communication systems for nematodes from diverse habitats, and thus may provide sustainable means for control of parasitic nematodes.
Larvae of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans must choose between reproductive development and dauer diapause. This decision is based on sensing of environmental inputs and dauer pheromone, a small molecule signal that serves to monitor population density. These signals are integrated via conserved neuroendocrine pathways that converge on steroidal ligands of the nuclear receptor DAF-12, a homolog of the mammalian vitamin D receptor and liver X receptor. DAF-12 acts as the main switch between gene expression programs that drive either reproductive development or dauer entry. Extensive studies in the past two decades demonstrated that biosynthesis of two bile acid-like DAF-12 ligands, named dafachronic acids (DA), controls developmental fate. In this issue of PLoS Biology, Wollam et al. showed that a conserved steroid-modifying enzyme, DHS-16, introduces a key feature in the structures of the DAF-12 ligands, closing a major gap in the DA biosynthesis pathway. The emerging picture of DA biosynthesis in C. elegans enables us to address a key question in the field: how are complex environmental signals integrated to enforce binary, organism-wide decisions on developmental fate? Schaedel et al. demonstrated that pheromone and DA serve as competing signals, and that a positive feedback loop based on regulation of DA biosynthesis ensures organism-wide commitment to reproductive development. Considering that many components of DA signaling are highly conserved, ongoing studies in C. elegans may reveal new aspects of bile acid function and lifespan regulation in mammals.
The free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans makes a developmental decision based on environmental conditions: larvae either arrest as dauer larva, or continue development into reproductive adults. There is natural variation among C. elegans lines in the sensitivity of this decision to environmental conditions; that is, there is variation in the phenotypic plasticity of dauer larva development. We hypothesised that these differences may be transcriptionally controlled in early stage larvae. We investigated this by microarray analysis of different C. elegans lines under different environmental conditions, specifically the presence and absence of dauer larva-inducing pheromone.
There were substantial transcriptional differences between four C. elegans lines under the same environmental conditions. The expression of approximately 2,000 genes differed between genetically different lines, with each line showing a largely line-specific transcriptional profile. The expression of genes that are markers of larval moulting suggested that the lines may be developing at different rates. The expression of a total of 89 genes was putatively affected by dauer larva or non-dauer larva-inducing conditions. Among the upstream regions of these genes there was an over-representation of DAF-16-binding motifs.
Under the same environmental conditions genetically different lines of C. elegans had substantial transcriptional differences. This variation may be due to differences in the developmental rates of the lines. Different environmental conditions had a rather smaller effect on transcription. The preponderance of DAF-16-binding motifs upstream of these genes was consistent with these genes playing a key role in the decision between development into dauer or into non-dauer larvae. There was little overlap between the genes whose expression was affected by environmental conditions and previously identified loci involved in the plasticity of dauer larva development.
Many free-living nematodes, including the laboratory model organisms Caenorhabditis elegans and Pristionchus pacificus, have a choice between direct and indirect development, representing an important case of phenotypic plasticity. Under harsh environmental conditions, these nematodes form dauer larvae, which arrest development, show high resistance to environmental stress and constitute a dispersal stage. Pristionchus pacificus occurs in a strong association with scarab beetles in the wild and remains in the dauer stage on the living beetle. Here, we explored the circumstances under which P. pacificus enters and exits the dauer stage by using a natural variation approach. The analysis of survival, recovery and fitness after dauer exit of eight P. pacificus strains revealed that dauer larvae can survive for up to 1 year under experimental conditions. In a second experiment, we isolated dauer pheromones from 16 P. pacificus strains, and tested for natural variation in pheromone production and sensitivity in cross-reactivity assays. Surprisingly, 13 of the 16 strains produce a pheromone that induces the highest dauer formation in individuals of other genotypes. These results argue against a simple adaptation model for natural variation in dauer formation and suggest that strains may have evolved to induce dauer formation precociously in other strains in order to reduce the fitness of these strains. We therefore discuss intraspecific competition among genotypes as a previously unconsidered aspect of dauer formation.
Pristionchus pacificus; phenotypic plasticity; dauer larvae; natural variation; dauer pheromone; intraspecific competition
The Tc1-like transposable elements, originally described in Caenorhabditis elegans, have a much wider phylogenetic distribution than previously thought. In this paper, we demonstrate that Tc1 shares sequence identity in its open reading frame and terminal repeats with a new transposable element Barney (also known as TCb1-Transposon Caenorhabditis briggsae 1). Barney was detected and isolated by Tc1 hybridization from the closely related nematode species, Caenorhabditis briggsae. The conserved open reading frames of Tc1 and Barney share identity with a structurally similar family of elements named HB found in Drosophila melanogaster, after the introduction of 3 small centrally located deletions in HB1. These reading frames would code for proteins with 30% amino acid identity (42% when conservative changes are included). Tc1, Barney and HB1 contain highly conserved blocks of amino acids which are likely to be in the functional domains of the putative transposase.
The nematode Caenorhabditis briggsae is an emerging model organism that allows evolutionary comparisons with C. elegans and exploration of its own unique biological attributes. To produce a high-resolution C. briggsae recombination map, recombinant inbred lines were generated from reciprocal crosses between two strains and genotyped at over 1,000 loci. A second set of recombinant inbred lines involving a third strain was also genotyped at lower resolution. The resulting recombination maps exhibit discrete domains of high and low recombination, as in C. elegans, indicating these are a general feature of Caenorhabditis species. The proportion of a chromosome's physical size occupied by the central, low-recombination domain is highly correlated between species. However, the C. briggsae intra-species comparison reveals striking variation in the distribution of recombination between domains. Hybrid lines made with the more divergent pair of strains also exhibit pervasive marker transmission ratio distortion, evidence of selection acting on hybrid genotypes. The strongest effect, on chromosome III, is explained by a developmental delay phenotype exhibited by some hybrid F2 animals. In addition, on chromosomes IV and V, cross direction-specific biases towards one parental genotype suggest the existence of cytonuclear epistatic interactions. These interactions are discussed in relation to surprising mitochondrial genome polymorphism in C. briggsae, evidence that the two strains diverged in allopatry, the potential for local adaptation, and the evolution of Dobzhansky-Muller incompatibilities. The genetic and genomic resources resulting from this work will support future efforts to understand inter-strain divergence as well as facilitate studies of gene function, natural variation, and the evolution of recombination in Caenorhabditis nematodes.
The nematode Caenorhabditis briggsae is increasingly used for comparisons with its more famous relative, C. elegans. To improve genomic resources for C. briggsae, we created two sets of inbred lines derived from crosses between diverged C. briggsae strains. High-throughput genotyping of these has improved the resolution of the recombination map and genome assembly. It also allows detailed comparisons of recombination both within and between species. Unexpectedly, we found that alleles from one parental strain were much more likely to be fixed on three of the six chromosomes in one of the sets of lines. One of these biases is caused by a pronounced developmental delay in F2 progeny that is seen in both reciprocal crosses, whereas the other two manifest in only one of the two cross directions. This indicates that the parental strains have diverged in both nuclear and nuclear-cytoplasmic interactions, either because of local adaptation or restricted gene flow across much of the genome.
The efficient use of nutrients is important in development and aging. In this study, we asked if the protein repair methyltransferase has a related or additional role in energy metabolism and stress response in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Worms lacking the pcm-1 gene encoding this enzyme exhibit reduced longevity as SDS-isolated dauer larvae and as arrested L1 larvae under starvation stress, while overexpression leads to increased adult longevity. These findings led us to question whether pcm-1 deficient C. elegans may have inappropriate metabolic responses to stress. We assayed dauer and dauer-like larvae for starvation survival and observed a 2-fold reduction of median survival time for pcm-1 mutants compared to N2 wild-type worms. Under these conditions, pcm-1 deficient dauer larvae had reduced fat stores, suggesting that PCM-1 may have a role in the initiation of the correct metabolic responses to stress starvation. We show expression of the pcm-1 gene in neurons, body wall and reproductive tissues. Upon heat shock and dauer formation-inducing conditions, we observe additional pcm-1 expression in body wall muscle nuclei and actomyosin filaments and in hypodermal cells. These results suggest that this enzyme may be important in stress response pathways, including proper decision making for energy storage.
pcm-1; L-isoaspartyl-O-methyltransferase; Caenorhabditis elegans; dauer larvae formation; survival; dauer recovery; fat storage; GFP expression
The ascarosides form a family of small molecules that have been isolated from cultures of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. They are often referred to as “dauer pheromones” because most of them induce formation of long-lived and highly stress resistant dauer larvae. More recent studies have shown that ascarosides serve additional functions as social signals and mating pheromones. Thus, ascarosides have multiple functions. Until now, it has been generally assumed that ascarosides are constitutively expressed during nematode development.
Cultures of C. elegans were developmentally synchronized on controlled diets. Ascarosides released into the media, as well as stored internally, were quantified by LC/MS. We found that ascaroside biosynthesis and release were strongly dependent on developmental stage and diet. The male attracting pheromone was verified to be a blend of at least four ascarosides, and peak production of the two most potent mating pheromone components, ascr#3 and asc#8 immediately preceded or coincided with the temporal window for mating. The concentration of ascr#2 increased under starvation conditions and peaked during dauer formation, strongly supporting ascr#2 as the main population density signal (dauer pheromone). After dauer formation, ascaroside production largely ceased and dauer larvae did not release any ascarosides. These findings show that both total ascaroside production and the relative proportions of individual ascarosides strongly correlate with these compounds' stage-specific biological functions.
Ascaroside expression changes with development and environmental conditions. This is consistent with multiple functions of these signaling molecules. Knowledge of such differential regulation will make it possible to associate ascaroside production to gene expression profiles (transcript, protein or enzyme activity) and help to determine genetic pathways that control ascaroside biosynthesis. In conjunction with findings from previous studies, our results show that the pheromone system of C. elegans mimics that of insects in many ways, suggesting that pheromone signaling in C. elegans may exhibit functional homology also at the sensory level. In addition, our results provide a strong foundation for future behavioral modeling studies.
The sensory systems of multicellular organisms are designed to provide information about the environment and thus elicit appropriate changes in physiology and behavior. In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, sensory neurons affect the decision to arrest during development in a diapause state, the dauer larva, and modulate the lifespan of the animals in adulthood. However, the mechanisms underlying these effects are incompletely understood. Using whole-genome microarray analysis, we identified transcripts whose levels are altered by mutations in the intraflagellar transport protein daf-10, which result in impaired development and function of many sensory neurons in C. elegans. In agreement with existing genetic data, the expression of genes regulated by the transcription factor DAF-16/FOXO was affected by daf-10 mutations. In addition, we found altered expression of transcriptional targets of the DAF-12/nuclear hormone receptor in the daf-10 mutants and showed that this pathway influences specifically the dauer formation phenotype of these animals. Unexpectedly, pathogen-responsive genes were repressed in daf-10 mutant animals, and these sensory mutants exhibited altered susceptibility to and behavioral avoidance of bacterial pathogens. Moreover, we found that a solute transporter gene mct-1/2, which was induced by daf-10 mutations, was necessary and sufficient for longevity. Thus, sensory input seems to influence an extensive transcriptional network that modulates basic biological processes in C. elegans. This situation is reminiscent of the complex regulation of physiology by the mammalian hypothalamus, which also receives innervations from sensory systems, most notably the visual and olfactory systems.
The senses provide animals with information about their environment, which affects not only their behavior but also their internal state and physiological outputs. How this information is processed is still unclear. In this study, we used mutant C. elegans roundworms that had defective sensory neurons to investigate how changes in sensation alter the expression of genes and regulate physiology, specifically the worms' choice to hibernate during growth and their longevity as fully-grown adults. We showed that defects in sensory neurons change the pattern of gene expression and regulate these outputs through known hormonal pathways, including insulin/IGF-1 and steroid pathways. We also identified a new regulator of longevity, MCT-1, that is predicted to transport small metabolites and hormones in the body. Unexpectedly, we found that sensory impairment altered yet another physiological output, the response to infectious agents. It prevented the worms from avoiding infectious bacteria and reduced the expression of potentially protective factors, but also increased the worms' resistance to infection, suggesting a complex network of responses to environmental stimuli. Understanding how sensory information is relayed in this relatively simple organism may inform our understanding of sensory processing in higher organisms like mammals.
An organism can respond to changing environmental conditions by adjusting gene regulation and by forming alternative phenotypes. In nematodes, these mechanisms are coupled because many species will form dauer larvae, a stress-resistant and non-aging developmental stage, when exposed to unfavorable environmental conditions, and execute gene expression programs that have been selected for the survival of the animal in the wild. These dauer larvae represent an environmentally induced, homologous developmental stage across many nematode species, sharing conserved morphological and physiological properties. Hence it can be expected that some core components of the associated transcriptional program would be conserved across species, while others might diverge over the course of evolution. However, transcriptional and metabolic analysis of dauer development has been largely restricted to Caenorhabditis elegans. Here, we use a transcriptomic approach to compare the dauer stage in the evolutionary model system Pristionchus pacificus with the dauer stage in C. elegans.
We have employed Agilent microarrays, which represent 20,446 P. pacificus and 20,143 C. elegans genes to show an unexpected divergence in the expression profiles of these two nematodes in dauer and dauer exit samples. P. pacificus and C. elegans differ in the dynamics and function of genes that are differentially expressed. We find that only a small number of orthologous gene pairs show similar expression pattern in the dauers of the two species, while the non-orthologous fraction of genes is a major contributor to the active transcriptome in dauers. Interestingly, many of the genes acquired by horizontal gene transfer and orphan genes in P. pacificus, are differentially expressed suggesting that these genes are of evolutionary and functional importance.
Our data set provides a catalog for future functional investigations and indicates novel insight into evolutionary mechanisms. We discuss the limited conservation of core developmental and transcriptional programs as a common aspect of animal evolution.
Dauer larvae; Developmental systems drift; Transcriptomics; Evolution of gene regulation; Horizontal gene transfer
Upon starvation or overcrowding, Caenorhabditis elegans interrupts its reproductive cycle and forms a specialised larva called dauer (enduring). This process is regulated by TGF-β and insulin-signalling pathways and is connected with the control of life span through the insulin pathway components DAF-2 and DAF-16. We found that replacing cholesterol with its methylated metabolite lophenol induced worms to form dauer larvae in the presence of food and low population density. Our data indicate that methylated sterols do not actively induce the dauer formation but rather that the reproductive growth requires a cholesterol-derived hormone that cannot be produced from methylated sterols. Using the effect of lophenol on growth, we have partially purified activity, named gamravali, which promotes the reproduction. In addition, the effect of lophenol allowed us to determine the role of sterols during dauer larva formation and longevity. In the absence of gamravali, the nuclear hormone receptor DAF-12 is activated and thereby initiates the dauer formation program. Active DAF-12 triggers in neurons the nuclear import of DAF-16, a forkhead domain transcription factor that contributes to dauer differentiation. This hormonal control of DAF-16 activation is, however, independent of insulin signalling and has no influence on life span.
A sterol-derived activity is partially purified and shown to support reproductive growth under sterol-free conditions that normally induce dauer larva formation in nematodes
RNA-based gene duplicates (retrocopies) played pivotal roles in many physiological processes. Nowadays, functional retrocopies have been systematically identified in several mammals, fruit flies, plants, zebrafish and other chordates, etc. However, studies about this kind of duplication in Caenorhabditis nematodes have not been reported.
We identified 43, 48, 43, 9, and 42 retrocopies, of which 6, 15, 18, 3, and 13 formed chimeric genes in C. brenneri, C. briggsae, C. elegans, C. japonica, and C. remanei, respectively. At least 5 chimeric types exist in Caenorhabditis species, of which retrocopy recruiting both N and C terminus is the commonest one. Evidences from different analyses demonstrate many retrocopies and almost all chimeric genes may be functional in these species. About half of retrocopies in each species has coordinates in other species, and we suggest that retrocopies in closely related species may be helpful in identifying retrocopies for one certain species.
A number of retrocopies and chimeric genes exist in Caenorhabditis genomes, and some of them may be functional. The evolutionary patterns of these genes may correlate with their genomic features, such as the activity of retroelements, the high rate of mutation and deletion rate, and a large proportion of genes subject to trans-splicing.
Retrocopy; Chimeric gene; Caenorhabditis; Evolutionary pattern
The phylum Nematoda is biologically diverse, including parasites of plants and animals as well as free-living taxa. Underpinning this diversity will be commensurate diversity in expressed genes, including gene sets associated specifically with evolution of parasitism.
Methods and Findings
Here we have analyzed the extensive expressed sequence tag data (available for 37 nematode species, most of which are parasites) and define over 120,000 distinct putative genes from which we have derived robust protein translations. Combined with the complete proteomes of Caenorhabditis elegans and Caenorhabditis briggsae, these proteins have been grouped into 65,000 protein families that in turn contain 40,000 distinct protein domains. We have mapped the occurrence of domains and families across the Nematoda and compared the nematode data to that available for other phyla. Gene loss is common, and in particular we identify nearly 5,000 genes that may have been lost from the lineage leading to the model nematode C. elegans. We find a preponderance of novelty, including 56,000 nematode-restricted protein families and 26,000 nematode-restricted domains. Mapping of the latest time-of-origin of these new families and domains across the nematode phylogeny revealed ongoing evolution of novelty. A number of genes from parasitic species had signatures of horizontal transfer from their host organisms, and parasitic species had a greater proportion of novel, secreted proteins than did free-living ones.
These classes of genes may underpin parasitic phenotypes, and thus may be targets for development of effective control measures.
The high-throughput sequencing of messenger RNA from parasitic organisms has permitted large-scale sequence analyses typically reserved for complete genome studies. Such expressed sequence tags (ESTs) have previously been generated for 37 species from the phylum Nematoda, of which 35 were from parasitic species. These datasets were combined with the complete genomes of Caenorhabditis elegans and C. briggsae. The sequences were assembled into 65,000 protein families, and decorated with 40,000 distinct protein domains. These annotations were analysed in the context of the nematode phylogeny. We identified massive gene loss in the model nematode, C. elegans, as well as plant-like proteins in nematodes that cause crop damage. Furthermore, many protein families were found in small groups of closely related species and may represent innovations necessary to sustain their parasitic ecologies. All of these data are presented at NemBase (www.nematodes.org) and will aid researchers working on this important group of parasites.
Under harsh environmental conditions Caenorhabditis elegans larvae undergo arrest and form dauer larvae that can attach to other animals to facilitate dispersal. It has been argued that this phenomenon, called phoresy, represents an intermediate step towards parasitism[2, 3]. Indeed, parasitic nematodes invade their hosts as infective larvae, a stage that shows striking morphological similarities to dauer larvae. While the molecular regulation of dauer entry in C. elegans involves insulin and TGF-ß signaling[4-8], studies of TGF-ß orthologues in parasitic nematodes did not provide evidence for a common origin of dauer and infective larvae[9-14]. To identify conserved candidate regulators between Caenorhabditis and parasitic nematodes we used an evolutionary approach involving Pristionchus pacificus as intermediate. We show by mutational and pharmacological analysis that Pristionchus and Caenorhabditis share the dafachronic acid-DAF-12 system as core endocrine module for dauer formation. One of the dafachronic acids, Δ7-DA, has a conserved role in the mammalian parasite Strongyloides papillosus where it controls entry into the infective stage. Application of Δ7-DA blocks formation of infective larvae and results in the generation of free-living animals. The conservation of this small molecule ligand represents a fundamental link between dauer and infective larvae and might provide a general strategy for nematode parasitism.
In stark contrast to the wealth of detail about C. elegans developmental biology and molecular genetics, biologists lack basic data for understanding the abundance and distribution of Caenorhabditis species in natural areas that are unperturbed by human influence.
Here we report the analysis of dense sampling from a small, remote site in the Amazonian rain forest of the Nouragues Natural Reserve in French Guiana.
Sampling of rotting fruits and flowers revealed proliferating populations of Caenorhabditis, with up to three different species co-occurring within a single substrate sample, indicating remarkable overlap of local microhabitats. We isolated six species, representing the highest local species richness for Caenorhabditis encountered to date, including both tropically cosmopolitan and geographically restricted species not previously isolated elsewhere. We also documented the structure of within-species molecular diversity at multiple spatial scales, focusing on 57 C. briggsae isolates from French Guiana. Two distinct genetic subgroups co-occur even within a single fruit. However, the structure of C. briggsae population genetic diversity in French Guiana does not result from strong local patterning but instead presents a microcosm of global patterns of differentiation. We further integrate our observations with new data from nearly 50 additional recently collected C. briggsae isolates from both tropical and temperate regions of the world to re-evaluate local and global patterns of intraspecific diversity, providing the most comprehensive analysis to date for C. briggsae population structure across multiple spatial scales.
The abundance and species richness of Caenorhabditis nematodes is high in a Neotropical rainforest habitat that is subject to minimal human interference. Microhabitat preferences overlap for different local species, although global distributions include both cosmopolitan and geographically restricted groups. Local samples for the cosmopolitan C. briggsae mirror its pan-tropical patterns of intraspecific polymorphism. It remains an important challenge to decipher what drives Caenorhabditis distributions and diversity within and between species.
Caenorhabditis; Species richness; Population structure; C. briggsae; Nucleotide diversity
In the genome of Caenorhabditis elegans, homopolymeric poly-G/poly-C tracts (G/C tracts) exist at high frequency and are maintained by the activity of the DOG-1 protein. The frequency and distribution of G/C tracts in the genomes of C. elegans and the related nematode, C. briggsae were analyzed to investigate possible biological roles for G/C tracts.
In C. elegans, G/C tracts are distributed along every chromosome in a non-random pattern. Most G/C tracts are within introns or are close to genes. Analysis of SAGE data showed that G/C tracts correlate with the levels of regional gene expression in C. elegans. G/C tracts are over-represented and dispersed across all chromosomes in another Caenorhabditis species, C. briggsae. However, the positions and distribution of G/C tracts in C. briggsae differ from those in C. elegans. Furthermore, the C. briggsae dog-1 ortholog CBG19723 can rescue the mutator phenotype of C. elegans dog-1 mutants.
The abundance and genomic distribution of G/C tracts in C. elegans, the effect of G/C tracts on regional transcription levels, and the lack of positional conservation of G/C tracts in C. briggsae suggest a role for G/C tracts in chromatin structure but not in the transcriptional regulation of specific genes.
Infective hookworm L3s encounter a host-specific signal during infection that re-initiates a suspended developmental pathway, resulting in development to the adult stage. This resumption of development in the host is analogous to recovery of developmentally arrested Caenorhabditis elegans dauer larvae in response to favorable environmental signals. Dauer recovery in C. elegans dauers and hookworm L3s is mediated by insulin-like signaling (ILS). A key output of ILS in C. elegans is the forkhead transcription factor DAF-16, which controls the expression of genes required for maintenance of the dauer stage. The similarity between recovery pathways of L3s and dauers suggests that DAF-16 functions similarly in hookworm L3 activation. To test this, orthologs of Ce-DAF-16 were isolated from the hookworms Ancylostoma caninum and Ancylostoma ceylanicum. The protein sequences of hookworm DAF-16 DNA binding domains were identical, and shared 94% identity with the b and c isoforms of Ce-DAF-16. Ac-DAF-16 expressed in HEK293 kidney cells bound strongly to the conserved DAF family binding element (DBE), but not to a random DNA sequence. Ac-DAF-16 was able to drive transcription of a reporter gene located downstream of six copies of the DBE in NIH3T3 cells under starved conditions. Addition of serum caused a decrease in reporter gene expression, indicating that DAF-16 is negatively regulated by growth factor stimulation. These data confirm the presence of DAF-16 orthologs in hookworms, and demonstrate that Ac-DAF-16 binds to and drives transcription from a conserved DAF-16 family DNA binding element.
Ancylostoma caninum; Hookworm; Insulin signaling; Dauer; Forkhead; Transition to parasitism
Animal development is complex yet surprisingly robust. Animals may develop alternative phenotypes conditional on environmental changes. Under unfavorable conditions, Caenorhabditis elegans larvae enter the dauer stage, a developmentally arrested, long-lived, and stress-resistant state. Dauer larvae of free-living nematodes and infective larvae of parasitic nematodes share many traits including a conserved endocrine signaling module (DA/DAF-12), which is essential for the formation of dauer and infective larvae. We speculated that conserved post-transcriptional regulatory mechanism might also be involved in executing the dauer and infective larvae fate. We used an unbiased sequencing strategy to characterize the microRNA (miRNA) gene complement in C. elegans, Pristionchus pacificus, and Strongyloides ratti. Our study raised the number of described miRNA genes to 257 for C. elegans, tripled the known gene set for P. pacificus to 362 miRNAs, and is the first to describe miRNAs in a Strongyloides parasite. Moreover, we found a limited core set of 24 conserved miRNA families in all three species. Interestingly, our estimated expression fold changes between dauer versus nondauer stages and infective larvae versus free-living stages reveal that despite the speed of miRNA gene set evolution in nematodes, homologous gene families with conserved “dauer-infective” expression signatures are present. These findings suggest that common post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms are at work and that the same miRNA families play important roles in developmental arrest and long-term survival in free-living and parasitic nematodes.
microRNA; nematodes; dauer larvae; post-transcriptional regulation; parasites
The soil nematodes Caenorhabditis briggsae and Caenorhabditis elegans diverged from a common ancestor roughly 100 million years ago and yet are almost indistinguishable by eye. They have the same chromosome number and genome sizes, and they occupy the same ecological niche. To explore the basis for this striking conservation of structure and function, we have sequenced the C. briggsae genome to a high-quality draft stage and compared it to the finished C. elegans sequence. We predict approximately 19,500 protein-coding genes in the C. briggsae genome, roughly the same as in C. elegans. Of these, 12,200 have clear C. elegans orthologs, a further 6,500 have one or more clearly detectable C. elegans homologs, and approximately 800 C. briggsae genes have no detectable matches in C. elegans. Almost all of the noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) known are shared between the two species. The two genomes exhibit extensive colinearity, and the rate of divergence appears to be higher in the chromosomal arms than in the centers. Operons, a distinctive feature of C. elegans, are highly conserved in C. briggsae, with the arrangement of genes being preserved in 96% of cases. The difference in size between the C. briggsae (estimated at approximately 104 Mbp) and C. elegans (100.3 Mbp) genomes is almost entirely due to repetitive sequence, which accounts for 22.4% of the C. briggsae genome in contrast to 16.5% of the C. elegans genome. Few, if any, repeat families are shared, suggesting that most were acquired after the two species diverged or are undergoing rapid evolution. Coclustering the C. elegans and C. briggsae proteins reveals 2,169 protein families of two or more members. Most of these are shared between the two species, but some appear to be expanding or contracting, and there seem to be as many as several hundred novel C. briggsae gene families. The C. briggsae draft sequence will greatly improve the annotation of the C. elegans genome. Based on similarity to C. briggsae, we found strong evidence for 1,300 new C. elegans genes. In addition, comparisons of the two genomes will help to understand the evolutionary forces that mold nematode genomes.
With the Caenorhabditis briggsae genome now in hand, C. elegans biologists have a powerful new research tool to refine their knowledge of gene function in C. elegans and to study the path of genome evolution
Evolution can follow predictable genetic trajectories1, indicating that discrete environmental shifts can select for reproducible genetic changes2-4. Conspecific individuals are an important feature of an animal's environment, and a potential source of selective pressures. We show here that adaptation of two Caenorhabditis species to growth at high density, a feature common to domestic environments, occurs by reproducible genetic changes to pheromone receptor genes. Chemical communication through pheromones that accumulate during high-density growth causes young nematode larvae to enter the long-lived but non-reproductive dauer stage. Two strains of Caenorhabditis elegans grown at high density have independently acquired multigenic resistance to pheromone-induced dauer formation. In each strain, resistance to the pheromone ascaroside C3 results from a deletion that disrupts the adjacent chemoreceptor genes serpentine receptor class g (srg)-36 and -37. Through misexpression experiments, we show that these genes encode redundant G protein-coupled receptors for ascaroside C3. Multigenic resistance to dauer formation has also arisen in high-density cultures of a different nematode species, Caenorhabditis briggsae, resulting in part from deletion of an srg gene paralogous to srg-36 and srg-37. These results demonstrate rapid remodeling of the chemoreceptor repertoire as an adaptation to specific environments, and indicate that parallel changes to a common genetic substrate can affect life history traits across species.
Different environmental stimuli, including exposure to dauer pheromone, food deprivation, and high temperature, can induce C. elegans larvae to enter the dauer stage, a developmentally arrested diapause state. Although molecular and cellular pathways responsible for detecting dauer pheromone and temperature have been defined in part, other sensory inputs are poorly understood, as are the mechanisms by which these diverse sensory inputs are integrated to achieve a consistent developmental outcome.
In this paper, we analyze a wild C. elegans strain isolated from a desert oasis. Unlike wild-type laboratory strains, the desert strain fails to respond to dauer pheromone at 25°C, but it does respond at higher temperatures, suggesting a unique adaptation to the hot desert environment. We map this defect in dauer response to a mutation in the scd-2 gene, which, we show, encodes the nematode anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) homolog, a proto-oncogene receptor tyrosine kinase. scd-2 acts in a genetic pathway shown here to include the HEN-1 ligand, the RTK adaptor SOC-1, and the MAP kinase SMA-5. The SCD-2 pathway modulates TGF-β signaling, which mediates the response to dauer pheromone, but SCD-2 might mediate a nonpheromone sensory input, such as food.
Our studies identify a new sensory pathway controlling dauer formation and shed light on ALK signaling, integration of signaling pathways, and adaptation to extreme environmental conditions.