X chromosome inactivation in eutherian mammals has been thought to be tightly controlled, as expected from a mechanism that compensates for the different dosage of X-borne genes in XX females and XY males. However, many X genes escape inactivation in humans, inactivation of the X in marsupials is partial, and the unrelated sex chromosomes of monotreme mammals have incomplete and gene-specific inactivation of X-linked genes. The bird ZW sex chromosome system represents a third independently evolved amniote sex chromosome system with dosage compensation, albeit partial and gene-specific, via an unknown mechanism (i.e. upregulation of the single Z in females, down regulation of one or both Zs in males, or a combination). We used RNA-fluorescent in situ hybridization (RNA-FISH) to demonstrate, on individual fibroblast cells, inactivation of 11 genes on the chicken Z and 28 genes on the X chromosomes of platypus. Each gene displayed a reproducible frequency of 1Z/1X-active and 2Z/2X-active cells in the homogametic sex. Our results indicate that the probability of inactivation is controlled on a gene-by-gene basis (or small domains) on the chicken Z and platypus X chromosomes. This regulatory mechanism must have been exapted independently to the non-homologous sex chromosomes in birds and mammals in response to an over-expressed Z or X in the homogametic sex, highlighting the universal importance that (at least partial) silencing plays in the evolution on amniote dosage compensation and, therefore, the differentiation of sex chromosomes.
Dosage compensation is a mechanism that restores the expression of X chromosome genes back to their original level when Y homologues lose function. In placental and marsupial mammals this is achieved by upregulating the single X in males. The carry-through of overexpression to females would result in functional tetraploidy, so there is subsequent inactivation of one X chromosome in the somatic cells of females, leaving males (XY) and females (XX) with a single upregulated X. In contrast, genes on the five platypus (a monotreme mammal) X chromosomes and the chicken Z chromosome (which are orthologous but independently evolved) are expressed globally at a higher level in female platypus and male chicken respectively, indicating partial dosage compensation. Here, for the first time, we provide evidence for inactivation of genes on the chicken Z chromosome in ZZ males, and on all five Xs in female platypus. Our results suggest that the silencing of genes on sex chromosomes has evolved independently in birds and mammals, and is, therefore, a critical step in the pathway to dosage compensate independently evolved amniote sex chromosomes systems.
Telomeres, specialised structures that protect chromosome ends, play a critical role in preserving chromosome integrity. Telomere dynamics in the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) are of particular interest in light of the emergence of devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), a transmissible malignancy that causes rapid mortality and threatens the species with extinction. We used fluorescent in situ hybridisation to investigate telomere length in DFTD cells, in healthy Tasmanian devils and in four closely related marsupial species. Here we report that animals in the Order Dasyuromorphia have chromosomes characterised by striking telomere length dimorphism between homologues. Findings in sex chromosomes suggest that telomere length dimorphism may be regulated by events in the parental germlines. Long telomeres on the Y chromosome imply that telomere lengthening occurs during spermatogenesis, whereas telomere diminution occurs during oogenesis. Although found in several somatic cell tissue types, telomere length dimorphism was not found in DFTD cancer cells, which are characterised by uniformly short telomeres. This is, to our knowledge, the first report of naturally occurring telomere length dimorphism in any species and suggests a novel strategy of telomere length control. Comparative studies in five distantly related marsupials and a monotreme indicate that telomere dimorphism evolved at least 50 million years ago.
Devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) is a fatal, transmissible malignancy that threatens the world's largest marsupial carnivore, the Tasmanian devil, with extinction. First recognised in 1996, DFTD has had a catastrophic effect on wild devil numbers, and intense research efforts to understand and contain the disease have since demonstrated that the tumour is a clonal cell line transmitted by allograft. We used chromosome painting and gene mapping to deconstruct the DFTD karyotype and determine the chromosome and gene rearrangements involved in carcinogenesis. Chromosome painting on three different DFTD tumour strains determined the origins of marker chromosomes and provided a general overview of the rearrangement in DFTD karyotypes. Mapping of 105 BAC clones by fluorescence in situ hybridisation provided a finer level of resolution of genome rearrangements in DFTD strains. Our findings demonstrate that only limited regions of the genome, mainly chromosomes 1 and X, are rearranged in DFTD. Regions rearranged in DFTD are also highly rearranged between different marsupials. Differences between strains are limited, reflecting the unusually stable nature of DFTD. Finally, our detailed maps of both the devil and tumour karyotypes provide a physical framework for future genomic investigations into DFTD.
The world's largest carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian devil, is threatened with extinction due to the emergence of devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), a fatal transmissible tumour. Critical loss of genetic diversity has rendered the devil vulnerable to transmission of tumour cells by grafting or transplanting the cells while biting and jaw wrestling. Initial studies of DFTD tumours revealed rearrangements among tumour chromosomes, with several missing chromosomes and four additional marker chromosomes of unknown origin. Since then, new strains of the disease have emerged and appear to be derived from the original strain. With no prior information available regarding the location of genes on normal devil chromosomes, a necessary first step towards characterisation of chromosome rearrangements in DFTD was to construct a map of the normal devil genome. This enabled us to elucidate the chromosome rearrangements in three DFTD strains. In doing so we determined the origin of the marker chromosomes and compared the three strains to determine which areas of the genome are involved in ongoing tumour evolution. Interestingly, rearrangements between strains are limited to particular genomic regions, demonstrating the unusual stability of this unique cancer. This study is therefore an important first step towards understanding the genetics of DFTD.
Sex chromosome dosage compensation in both eutherian and marsupial mammals is achieved by X chromosome inactivation (XCI)—transcriptional repression that silences one of the two X chromosomes in the somatic cells of females. We recently used RNA fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) to show, in individual nuclei, that marsupial X inactivation (in the absence of XIST) occurs on a gene-by-gene basis, and that escape from inactivation is stochastic and independent of gene location. In the absence of similar data from fibroblast cell lines of eutherian representatives, a meaningful comparison is lacking. We therefore used RNA-FISH to examine XCI in fibroblast cell lines obtained from three distantly related eutherian model species: African savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana), mouse (Mus musculus) and human (Homo sapiens). We show that, unlike the orthologous marsupial X, inactivation of the X conserved region (XCR) in eutherians generally is complete. Two-colour RNA-FISH on female human, mouse and elephant interphase nuclei showed that XCR loci have monoallelic expression in almost all nuclei. However, we found that many loci located in the evolutionarily distinct recently added region (XAR) displayed reproducible locus-specific frequencies of nuclei with either one or two active X alleles. We propose that marsupial XCI retains features of an ancient incomplete silencing mechanism that was augmented by the evolution of the XIST gene that progressively stabilized the eutherian XCR. In contrast, the recently added region of the eutherian X displays an incomplete inactivation profile similar to that observed on the evolutionarily distinct marsupial X and the independently evolved monotreme X chromosomes.
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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 http://compldb.angis.org.au.
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.
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 http://compldb.angis.org.au/.
The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a group of genes with a variety of roles in the innate and adaptive immune responses. MHC genes form a genetically linked cluster in eutherian mammals, an organization that is thought to confer functional and evolutionary advantages to the immune system. The tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii), an Australian marsupial, provides a unique model for understanding MHC gene evolution, as many of its antigen presenting genes are not linked to the MHC, but are scattered around the genome.
Here we describe the 'core' tammar wallaby MHC region on chromosome 2q by ordering and sequencing 33 BAC clones, covering over 4.5 MB and containing 129 genes. When compared to the MHC region of the South American opossum, eutherian mammals and non-mammals, the wallaby MHC has a novel gene organization. The wallaby has undergone an expansion of MHC class II genes, which are separated into two clusters by the class III genes. The antigen processing genes have undergone duplication, resulting in two copies of TAP1 and three copies of TAP2. Notably, Kangaroo Endogenous Retroviral Elements are present within the region and may have contributed to the genomic instability.
The wallaby MHC has been extensively remodeled since the American and Australian marsupials last shared a common ancestor. The instability is characterized by the movement of antigen presenting genes away from the core MHC, most likely via the presence and activity of retroviral elements. We propose that the movement of class II genes away from the ancestral class II region has allowed this gene family to expand and diversify in the wallaby. The duplication of TAP genes in the wallaby MHC makes this species a unique model organism for studying the relationship between MHC gene organization and function.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Vertebrate alpha (α)- and beta (β)-globin gene families exemplify the way in which genomes evolve to produce functional complexity. From tandem duplication of a single globin locus, the α- and β-globin clusters expanded, and then were separated onto different chromosomes. The previous finding of a fossil β-globin gene (ω) in the marsupial α-cluster, however, suggested that duplication of the α-β cluster onto two chromosomes, followed by lineage-specific gene loss and duplication, produced paralogous α- and β-globin clusters in birds and mammals. Here we analyse genomic data from an egg-laying monotreme mammal, the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), to explore haemoglobin evolution at the stem of the mammalian radiation.
The platypus α-globin cluster (chromosome 21) contains embryonic and adult α- globin genes, a β-like ω-globin gene, and the GBY globin gene with homology to cytoglobin, arranged as 5'-ζ-ζ'-αD-α3-α2-α1-ω-GBY-3'. The platypus β-globin cluster (chromosome 2) contains single embryonic and adult globin genes arranged as 5'-ε-β-3'. Surprisingly, all of these globin genes were expressed in some adult tissues. Comparison of flanking sequences revealed that all jawed vertebrate α-globin clusters are flanked by MPG-C16orf35 and LUC7L, whereas all bird and mammal β-globin clusters are embedded in olfactory genes. Thus, the mammalian α- and β-globin clusters are orthologous to the bird α- and β-globin clusters respectively.
We propose that α- and β-globin clusters evolved from an ancient MPG-C16orf35-α-β-GBY-LUC7L arrangement 410 million years ago. A copy of the original β (represented by ω in marsupials and monotremes) was inserted into an array of olfactory genes before the amniote radiation (>315 million years ago), then duplicated and diverged to form orthologous clusters of β-globin genes with different expression profiles in different lineages.
Dosage compensation has been thought to be a ubiquitous property of sex chromosomes that are represented differently in males and females. The expression of most X-borne genes is equalized between XX females and XY males in therian mammals (marsupials and “placentals”) by inactivating one X chromosome in female somatic cells. However, compensation seems not to be strictly required to equalize the expression of most Z-borne genes between ZZ male and ZW female birds. Whether dosage compensation operates in the third mammal lineage, the egg-laying monotremes, is of considerable interest, since the platypus has a complex sex chromosome system in which five X and five Y chromosomes share considerable genetic homology with the chicken ZW sex chromosome pair, but not with therian XY chromosomes. The assignment of genes to four platypus X chromosomes allowed us to examine X dosage compensation in this unique species. Quantitative PCR showed a range of compensation, but SNP analysis of several X-borne genes showed that both alleles are transcribed in a heterozygous female. Transcription of 14 BACs representing 19 X-borne genes was examined by RNA-FISH in female and male fibroblasts. An autosomal control gene was expressed from both alleles in nearly all nuclei, and four pseudoautosomal BACs were usually expressed from both alleles in male as well as female nuclei, showing that their Y loci are active. However, nine X-specific BACs were usually transcribed from only one allele. This suggests that while some genes on the platypus X are not dosage compensated, other genes do show some form of compensation via stochastic transcriptional inhibition, perhaps representing an ancestral system that evolved to be more tightly controlled in placental mammals such as human and mouse.
Dosage compensation equalizes the expression of genes found on sex chromosomes so that they are equally expressed in females and males. In placental and marsupial mammals, this is accomplished by silencing one of the two X chromosomes in female cells. In birds, dosage compensation seems not to be strictly required to balance the expression of most genes on the Z chromosome between ZZ males and ZW females. Whether dosage compensation exists in the third group of mammals, the egg-laying monotremes, is of considerable interest, particularly since the platypus has five different X and five different Y chromosomes. As part of the platypus genome project, genes have now been assigned to four of the five X chromosomes. We have shown that there is some evidence for dosage compensation, but it is variable between genes. Most interesting are our results showing that there is a difference in the probability of expression for X-specific genes, with about 50% of female cells having two active copies of an X gene while the remainder have only one. This means that, although the platypus has the variable compensation characteristic of birds, it also has some level of inactivation, which is characteristic of dosage compensation in other mammals.
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.
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.
Genomic imprinting, representing parent-specific expression of alleles at a locus, raises many questions about how—and especially why—epigenetic silencing of mammalian genes evolved. We present the first in-depth study of how a human imprinted domain evolved, analyzing a domain containing several imprinted genes that are involved in human disease. Using comparisons of orthologous genes in humans, marsupials, and the platypus, we discovered that the Prader-Willi/Angelman syndrome region on human Chromosome 15q was assembled only recently (105–180 million years ago). This imprinted domain arose after a region bearing UBE3A (Angelman syndrome) fused with an unlinked region bearing SNRPN (Prader-Willi syndrome), which had duplicated from the non-imprinted SNRPB/B′. This region independently acquired several retroposed gene copies and arrays of small nucleolar RNAs from different parts of the genome. In their original configurations, SNRPN and UBE3A are expressed from both alleles, implying that acquisition of imprinting occurred after their rearrangement and required the evolution of a control locus. Thus, the evolution of imprinting in viviparous mammals is ongoing.
Humans and other mammals have two copies of the genome. For most genes, both copies are active. However, some genes are active only when they are inherited from the father, others only when inherited from the mother. These “imprinted” genes are clustered in domains that are controlled coordinately. Only mammals show genomic imprinting. It is not understood how or why genes became imprinted during mammalian evolution. The authors used comparisons between humans and the most distantly related mammals, marsupials and monotremes, to discover how one of these imprinted domains evolved. The authors studied an imprinted domain on human Chromosome 15, mutations which cause Prader-Willi and Angelman syndromes (PWS-AS). They discovered that the PWS and AS genes lie on different chromosomes in kangaroos and platypus and are not imprinted. Other imprinted genes in the domain, including the putative control region, are absent from the genome and derived from copies of genes from yet other chromosomes. The arrangement in kangaroos and platypus is present also in the chicken genome, so it must be ancestral. This study concludes that the PWS-AS imprinted region was assembled relatively recently from non-imprinted components that were moved together or copied from all over the genome.
The first sequenced marsupial genome promises to reveal unparalleled insights into mammalian evolution. We have used theMonodelphis domestica (gray short-tailed opossum) sequence to construct the first map of a marsupial major histocompatibility complex (MHC). The MHC is the most gene-dense region of the mammalian genome and is critical to immunity and reproductive success. The marsupial MHC bridges the phylogenetic gap between the complex MHC of eutherian mammals and the minimal essential MHC of birds. Here we show that the opossum MHC is gene dense and complex, as in humans, but shares more organizational features with non-mammals. The Class I genes have amplified within the Class II region, resulting in a unique Class I/II region. We present a model of the organization of the MHC in ancestral mammals and its elaboration during mammalian evolution. The opossum genome, together with other extant genomes, reveals the existence of an ancestral “immune supercomplex” that contained genes of both types of natural killer receptors together with antigen processing genes and MHC genes.
Opossum genomic sequence data permit researchers to fill gaps in our knowledge of how the Major Histocompatibility Complex evolved within the mammalian lineage.
Embryogenesis in placental mammals is sustained by exquisite interplay between the embryo proper and placenta. UTF1 is a developmentally regulated gene expressed in both cell lineages. Here, we analyzed the consequence of loss of the UTF1 gene during mouse development. We found that homozygous UTF1 mutant newborn mice were significantly smaller than wild-type or heterozygous mutant mice, suggesting that placental insufficiency caused by the loss of UTF1 expression in extra-embryonic ectodermal cells at least in part contributed to this phenotype. We also found that the effects of loss of UTF1 expression in embryonic stem cells on their pluripotency were very subtle. Genome structure and sequence comparisons revealed that the UTF1 gene exists only in placental mammals. Our analyses of a family of genes with homology to UTF1 revealed a possible mechanism by which placental mammals have evolved the UTF1 genes.
We present a draft genome sequence of the platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus. This monotreme exhibits a fascinating combination of reptilian and mammalian characters. For example, platypuses have a coat of fur adapted to an aquatic lifestyle; platypus females lactate, yet lay eggs; and males are equipped with venom similar to that of reptiles. Analysis of the first monotreme genome aligned these features with genetic innovations. We find that reptile and platypus venom proteins have been co-opted independently from the same gene families; milk protein genes are conserved despite platypuses laying eggs; and immune gene family expansions are directly related to platypus biology. Expansions of protein, non-protein-coding RNA and microRNA families, as well as repeat elements, are identified. Sequencing of this genome now provides a valuable resource for deep mammalian comparative analyses, as well as for monotreme biology and conservation.