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1.  Naturally rare versus newly rare: demographic inferences on two timescales inform conservation of Galápagos giant tortoises 
Ecology and Evolution  2015;5(3):676-694.
Long-term population history can influence the genetic effects of recent bottlenecks. Therefore, for threatened or endangered species, an understanding of the past is relevant when formulating conservation strategies. Levels of variation at neutral markers have been useful for estimating local effective population sizes (Ne) and inferring whether population sizes increased or decreased over time. Furthermore, analyses of genotypic, allelic frequency, and phylogenetic information can potentially be used to separate historical from recent demographic changes. For 15 populations of Galápagos giant tortoises (Chelonoidis sp.), we used 12 microsatellite loci and DNA sequences from the mitochondrial control region and a nuclear intron, to reconstruct demographic history on shallow (past ∽100 generations, ∽2500 years) and deep (pre-Holocene, >10 thousand years ago) timescales. At the deep timescale, three populations showed strong signals of growth, but with different magnitudes and timing, indicating different underlying causes. Furthermore, estimated historical Ne of populations across the archipelago showed no correlation with island age or size, underscoring the complexity of predicting demographic history a priori. At the shallow timescale, all populations carried some signature of a genetic bottleneck, and for 12 populations, point estimates of contemporary Ne were very small (i.e., < 50). On the basis of the comparison of these genetic estimates with published census size data, Ne generally represented ∽0.16 of the census size. However, the variance in this ratio across populations was considerable. Overall, our data suggest that idiosyncratic and geographically localized forces shaped the demographic history of tortoise populations. Furthermore, from a conservation perspective, the separation of demographic events occurring on shallow versus deep timescales permits the identification of naturally rare versus newly rare populations; this distinction should facilitate prioritization of management action.
PMCID: PMC4328771
Conservation; demographic history; Galápagos giant tortoise; genetic diversity; population size
2.  Demographic Outcomes and Ecosystem Implications of Giant Tortoise Reintroduction to Española Island, Galapagos 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e110742.
Restoration of extirpated species via captive breeding has typically relied on population viability as the primary criterion for evaluating success. This criterion is inadequate when species reintroduction is undertaken to restore ecological functions and interactions. Herein we report on the demographic and ecological outcomes of a five-decade-long population restoration program for a critically endangered species of “ecosystem engineer”: the endemic Española giant Galapagos tortoise (Chelonoidis hoodensis). Our analysis of complementary datasets on tortoise demography and movement, tortoise-plant interactions and Española Island’s vegetation history indicated that the repatriated tortoise population is secure from a strictly demographic perspective: about half of tortoises released on the island since 1975 were still alive in 2007, in situ reproduction is now significant, and future extinction risk is low with or without continued repatriation. Declining survival rates, somatic growth rates, and body condition of repatriates suggests, however, that resources for continued population growth are increasingly limited. Soil stable carbon isotope analyses indicated a pronounced shift toward woody plants in the recent history of the island’s plant community, likely a legacy of changes in competitive relations between woody and herbaceous plants induced by now-eradicated feral goats and prolonged absence of tortoises. Woody plants are of concern because they block tortoise movement and hinder recruitment of cactus–a critical resource for tortoises. Tortoises restrict themselves to remnant cactus patches and areas of low woody plant density in the center of the island despite an apparent capacity to colonize a far greater range, likely because of a lack of cactus elsewhere on the island. We conclude that ecosystem-level criteria for success of species reintroduction efforts take much longer to achieve than population-level criteria; moreover, reinstatement of endangered species as fully functioning ecosystem engineers may often require large-scale habitat restoration efforts in concert with population restoration.
PMCID: PMC4211691  PMID: 25350744
3.  Defining Influenza A Virus Hemagglutinin Antigenic Drift by Sequential Monoclonal Antibody Selection 
Cell host & microbe  2013;13(3):314-323.
Human influenza A virus (IAV) vaccination is limited by “antigenic drift,” rapid antibody-driven escape reflecting amino acid substitutions in the globular domain of hemagglutinin (HA), the viral attachment protein. To better understand drift, we used anti-hemagglutinin monoclonal Abs (mAbs) to sequentially select IAV escape mutants. Twelve selection steps, each resulting in a single amino acid substitution in the hemagglutinin globular domain, were required to eliminate antigenicity defined by monoclonal or polyclonal Abs. Sequential mutants grow robustly, showing the structural plasticity of HA, although several hemagglutinin substitutions required an epistatic substitution in the neuraminidase glycoprotein to maximize growth. Selecting escape mutants from parental versus sequential variants with the same mAb revealed distinct escape repertoires, attributed to contextual changes in antigenicity and the mutation landscape. Since each hemagglutinin mutation potentially sculpts future mutation space, drift can follow many stochastic paths, undermining its unpredictability and underscoring the need for drift-insensitive vaccines.
PMCID: PMC3747226  PMID: 23498956
4.  Anatomically restricted synergistic anti-viral activities of innate and adaptive immune cells in the skin 
Cell host & microbe  2013;13(2):155-168.
Despite extensive ex vivo investigation, the spatiotemporal organization of immune cells interacting with virus-infected cells in tissues remains uncertain. To address this, we used intravital multiphoton microscopy to visualize immune cell interactions with virus-infected cells following epicutaneous vaccinia virus (VV) infection of mice. VV infects keratinocytes in epidermal foci, and numerous migratory dermal inflammatory monocytes outlying the foci. We observed Ly6G+ innate immune cells infiltrating and controlling foci, while CD8+ T cells remained on the periphery killing infected monocytes. Most antigen-specific CD8+ T cells in the skin did not interact with virus-infected cells. Blocking the generation of reactive nitrogen species relocated CD8+ T cells into foci, modestly reducing viral titers. Depletion of Ly6G+ and CD8+ cells dramatically increased viral titers, consistent with their synergistic but spatially segregated viral clearance activities. These findings highlight previously unappreciated differences in the anatomic specialization of antiviral immune cell subsets.
PMCID: PMC3591514  PMID: 23414756
5.  Recovery of a nearly extinct Galápagos tortoise despite minimal genetic variation 
Evolutionary Applications  2012;6(2):377-383.
A species of Galápagos tortoise endemic to Española Island was reduced to just 12 females and three males that have been bred in captivity since 1971 and have produced over 1700 offspring now repatriated to the island. Our molecular genetic analyses of juveniles repatriated to and surviving on the island indicate that none of the tortoises sampled in 1994 had hatched on the island versus 3% in 2004 and 24% in 2007, which demonstrates substantial and increasing reproduction in situ once again. This recovery occurred despite the parental population having an estimated effective population size <8 due to a combination of unequal reproductive success of the breeders and nonrandom mating in captivity. These results provide guidelines for adapting breeding regimes in the parental captive population and decreasing inbreeding in the repatriated population. Using simple morphological data scored on the sampled animals, we also show that a strongly heterogeneous distribution of tortoise sizes on Española Island observed today is due to a large variance in the number of animals included in yearly repatriation events performed in the last 40 years. Our study reveals that, at least in the short run, some endangered species can recover dramatically despite a lack of genetic variation and irregular repatriation efforts.
PMCID: PMC3586625  PMID: 23467700
captive populations; conservation biology; conservation genetics
6.  Chemokines control naive CD8+ T cell selection of optimal lymph node antigen presenting cells 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2011;208(12):2511-2524.
CCR5-binding chemokines produced in the draining lymph node after vaccinia virus infection guide naive CD8+ T cells toward DCs and away from the macrophage-rich zone, thereby facilitating optimal CD8+ T cell activation and cytokine production.
Naive antiviral CD8+ T cells are activated in the draining LN (DLN) by dendritic cells (DCs) presenting viral antigens. However, many viruses infect LN macrophages, which participate in initiation of innate immunity and B cell activation. To better understand how and why T cells select infected DCs rather than macrophages, we performed intravital microscopy and ex vivo analyses after infecting mice with vaccinia virus (VV), a large DNA virus that infects both LN macrophages and DCs. Although CD8+ T cells interact with both infected macrophages and DCs in the LN peripheral interfollicular region (PIR), DCs generate more frequent and stable interactions with T cells. VV infection induces rapid release of CCR5-binding chemokines in the LN, and administration of chemokine-neutralizing antibodies diminishes T cell activation by increasing T cell localization to macrophages in the macrophage-rich region (MRR) at the expense of PIR DCs. Similarly, DC ablation increases both T cell localization to the MRR and the duration of T cell–macrophage contacts, resulting in suboptimal T cell activation. Thus, virus-induced chemokines in DLNs enable antiviral CD8+ T cells to distinguish DCs from macrophages to optimize T cell priming.
PMCID: PMC3256957  PMID: 22042976
7.  Cysteinyl-tRNA Deacylation Can Be Uncoupled from Protein Synthesis 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33072.
Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (ARSs) are critical components of protein translation, providing ribosomes with aminoacyl-tRNAs. In return, ribosomes release uncharged tRNAs as ARS substrates. Here, we show that tRNA deacylation can be uncoupled from protein synthesis in an amino acid specific manner. While tRNAs coupled to radiolabeled Met, Leu Lys, or Ser are stable in cells following translation inhibition with arsenite, radiolabeled Cys is released from tRNA at a high rate. We discuss possible translation independent functions for tRNACys.
PMCID: PMC3302863  PMID: 22427952
8.  Rapid evolution of protein kinase PKR alters sensitivity to viral inhibitors 
Protein kinase PKR is activated during viral infection and phosphorylates the α subunit of eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2 (eIF2), leading to inhibition of translation and viral replication. We report fast evolution of the PKR kinase domain in vertebrates, coupled with positive selection of specific sites. Substitution of positively selected residues in human PKR with residues found in related species altered sensitivity to PKR inhibitors from different poxviruses. Species-specific differences in sensitivity to poxviral pseudosubstrate inhibitors were identified between human and mouse PKR, which were traced to positively-selected residues near the eIF2α-binding site. Our findings indicate how an antiviral protein evolved to evade viral inhibition while maintaining its primary function. Moreover, the identified species-specific differences in the susceptibility to viral inhibitors have important implications for studying human infections in non-human model systems.
PMCID: PMC3142916  PMID: 19043413
9.  Influenza A Virus Hemagglutinin Antibody Escape Promotes Neuraminidase Antigenic Variation and Drug Resistance 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(2):e15190.
Drugs inhibiting the influenza A virus (IAV) neuraminidase (NA) are the cornerstone of anti-IAV chemotherapy and prophylaxis in man. Drug-resistant mutations in NA arise frequently in human isolates, limiting the therapeutic application of NA inhibitors. Here, we show that antibody-driven antigenic variation in one domain of the H1 hemagglutinin Sa site leads to compensatory mutations in NA, resulting in NA antigenic variation and acquisition of drug resistance. These findings indicate that influenza A virus resistance to NA inhibitors can potentially arise from antibody driven HA escape, confounding analysis of influenza NA evolution in nature.
PMCID: PMC3043005  PMID: 21364978
10.  Innate Immune and Chemically Triggered Oxidative Stress Modifies Translational Fidelity 
Nature  2009;462(7272):522-526.
Translational fidelity, essential for protein and cell function, requires accurate tRNA aminoacylation. Purified aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases exhibit a fidelity of 1 error per 10,000 to 100,000 couplings 1, 2. The accuracy of tRNA aminoacylation in vivo is uncertain, however, and might be considerably lower 3–6. Here, we show that in mammalian cells, approximately 1% of methionine (Met) residues used in protein synthesis are aminoacylated to non-methionyl-tRNAs. Remarkably, Met-misacylation increases up to 10-fold upon exposing cells to live or non-infectious viruses, toll-like receptor ligands, or chemically induced oxidative stress. Met is misacylated to specific non-methionyl-tRNA families, and these Met-misacylated tRNAs are used in translation. Met-misacylation is blocked by an inhibitor of cellular oxidases, implicating reactive oxygen species (ROS) as the misacylation trigger. Among six amino acids tested, tRNA misacylation occurs exclusively with Met. As Met residues are known to protect proteins against ROS-mediated damage 7, we propose that Met-misacylation functions adaptively to increase Met incorporation into proteins to protect cells against oxidative stress. In demonstrating an unexpected conditional aspect of decoding mRNA, our findings illustrate the importance of considering alternative iterations of the genetic code.
PMCID: PMC2785853  PMID: 19940929
11.  DNA from the Past Informs Ex Situ Conservation for the Future: An “Extinct” Species of Galápagos Tortoise Identified in Captivity 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(1):e8683.
Although not unusual to find captive relicts of species lost in the wild, rarely are presumed extinct species rediscovered outside of their native range. A recent study detected living descendents of an extinct Galápagos tortoise species (Chelonoidis elephantopus) once endemic to Floreana Island on the neighboring island of Isabela. This finding adds to the growing cryptic diversity detected among these species in the wild. There also exists a large number of Galápagos tortoises in captivity of ambiguous origin. The recently accumulated population-level haplotypic and genotypic data now available for C. elephantopus add a critical reference population to the existing database of 11 extant species for investigating the origin of captive individuals of unknown ancestry.
We reanalyzed mitochondrial DNA control region haplotypes and microsatellite genotypes of 156 captive individuals using an expanded reference database that included all extant Galápagos tortoise species as well as the extinct species from Floreana. Nine individuals (six females and three males) exhibited strong signatures of Floreana ancestry and a high probability of assignment to C. elephantopus as detected by Bayesian assignment and clustering analyses of empirical and simulated data. One male with high assignment probability to C. elephantopus based on microsatellite genotypic data also possessed a “Floreana-like” mitochondrial DNA haplotype.
Historical DNA analysis of museum specimens has provided critical spatial and temporal components to ecological, evolutionary, taxonomic and conservation-related research, but rarely has it informed ex situ species recovery efforts. Here, the availability of population-level genotypic data from the extinct C. elephantopus enabled the identification of nine Galápagos tortoise individuals of substantial conservation value that were previously misassigned to extant species of varying conservation status. As all captive individuals of C. elephantopus ancestry currently reside at a centralized breeding facility on Santa Cruz, these findings permit breeding efforts to commence in support of the reestablishment of this extinct species to its native range.
PMCID: PMC2800188  PMID: 20084268
12.  Morphometrics Parallel Genetics in a Newly Discovered and Endangered Taxon of Galápagos Tortoise 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(7):e6272.
Galápagos tortoises represent the only surviving lineage of giant tortoises that exhibit two different types of shell morphology. The taxonomy of Galápagos tortoises was initially based mainly on diagnostic morphological characters of the shell, but has been clarified by molecular studies indicating that most islands harbor monophyletic lineages, with the exception of Isabela and Santa Cruz. On Santa Cruz there is strong genetic differentiation between the two tortoise populations (Cerro Fatal and La Reserva) exhibiting domed shell morphology. Here we integrate nuclear microsatellite and mitochondrial data with statistical analyses of shell shape morphology to evaluate whether the genetic distinction and variability of the two domed tortoise populations is paralleled by differences in shell shape. Based on our results, morphometric analyses support the genetic distinction of the two populations and also reveal that the level of genetic variation is associated with morphological shell shape variation in both populations. The Cerro Fatal population possesses lower levels of morphological and genetic variation compared to the La Reserva population. Because the turtle shell is a complex heritable trait, our results suggest that, for the Cerro Fatal population, non-neutral loci have probably experienced a parallel decrease in variability as that observed for the genetic data.
PMCID: PMC2707613  PMID: 19609441
13.  The Exception that Reinforces the Rule: Cross-Priming by Cytosolic Peptides that Escape Degradation 
Immunity  2008;28(6):787-798.
The nature of cross-priming immunogens for CD8+ T cell responses is highly controversial. Using a panel of T cell receptor-like antibodies specific for viral peptides bound to mouse Db major histocompatibility complex class I molecules, we show that an exceptional peptide (PA224-233) expressed as a viral minigene product formed a sizeable cytosolic pool continuously presented for hours after protein synthesis was inhibited. PA224-233 pool formation required active cytosolic heat shock protein 90 but not ER g96, and uniquely enabled cross-priming by this peptide. These findings demonstrate that exceptional class I binding oligopeptides that escape proteolytic degradation are potent cross-priming agents. Thus, the feeble immunogenicity of natural proteasome products in cross-priming can be attributed to their evanescence in donor cells, and not an absolute inability of cytosolic oligopeptides to be transferred to and presented by professional antigen presenting cells..
PMCID: PMC2587262  PMID: 18549799
15.  Giant Galápagos tortoises; molecular genetic analyses identify a trans-island hybrid in a repatriation program of an endangered taxon 
BMC Ecology  2007;7:2.
Giant Galápagos tortoises on the island of Española have been the focus of an intensive captive breeding-repatriation programme for over 35 years that saved the taxon from extinction. However, analysis of 118 samples from released individuals indicated that the bias sex ratio and large variance in reproductive success among the 15 breeders has severely reduced the effective population size (Ne).
We report here that an analysis of an additional 473 captive-bred tortoises released back to the island reveals an individual (E1465) that exhibits nuclear microsatellite alleles not found in any of the 15 breeders. Statistical analyses incorporating genotypes of 304 field-sampled individuals from all populations on the major islands indicate that E1465 is most probably a hybrid between an Española female tortoise and a male from the island of Pinzón, likely present on Española due to human transport.
Removal of E1465 as well as its father and possible (half-)siblings is warranted to prevent further contamination within this taxon of particular conservation significance. Despite this detected single contamination, it is highly noteworthy to emphasize the success of this repatriation program conducted over nearly 40 years and involving release of over 2000 captive-bred tortoises that now reproduce in situ. The incorporation of molecular genetic analysis of the program is providing guidance that will aid in monitoring the genetic integrity of this ambitious effort to restore a unique linage of a spectacular animal.
PMCID: PMC1820773  PMID: 17302982
16.  A cryptic taxon of Galápagos tortoise in conservation peril 
Biology Letters  2005;1(3):287-290.
As once boldly stated, ‘bad taxonomy can kill’, highlighting the critical importance of accurate taxonomy for the conservation of endangered taxa. The concept continues to evolve almost 15 years later largely because most legal protections aimed at preserving biological diversity are based on formal taxonomic designations. In this paper we report unrecognized genetic divisions within the giant tortoises of the Galápagos. We found three distinct lineages among populations formerly considered a single taxon on the most populous and accessible island of Santa Cruz; their diagnosability, degree of genetic divergence and phylogenetic placement merit the recognition of at least one new taxon. These results demonstrate the fundamental importance of continuing taxonomic investigations to recognize biological diversity and designate units of conservation, even within long-studied organisms such as Galápagos tortoises, whose evolutionary heritage and contribution to human intellectual history warrant them special attention.
PMCID: PMC1617146  PMID: 17148189
Geochelone nigra (elephantopus); giant tortoises; microsatellites; conservation genetics; phylogeography; historical DNA
17.  Genetic analysis of a successful repatriation programme: giant Galápagos tortoises. 
As natural populations of endangered species dwindle to precarious levels, remaining members are sometimes brought into captivity, allowed to breed and their offspring returned to the natural habitat. One goal of such repatriation programmes is to retain as much of the genetic variation of the species as possible. A taxon of giant Galápagos tortoises on the island of Española has been the subject of a captive breeding-repatriation programme for 33 years. Core breeders, consisting of 12 females and three males, have produced more than 1200 offspring that have been released on Española where in situ reproduction has recently been observed. Using microsatellite DNA markers, we have determined the maternity and paternity of 132 repatriated offspring. Contributions of the breeders are highly skewed. This has led to a further loss of genetic variation that is detrimental to the long-term survival of the population. Modifications to the breeding programme could alleviate this problem.
PMCID: PMC1691607  PMID: 15101691
18.  The Influenza A Virus PB1-F2 Protein Targets the Inner Mitochondrial Membrane via a Predicted Basic Amphipathic Helix That Disrupts Mitochondrial Function 
Journal of Virology  2003;77(13):7214-7224.
The 11th influenza A virus gene product is an 87-amino-acid protein provisionally named PB1-F2 (because it is encoded by an open reading frame overlapping the PB1 open reading frame). A significant fraction of PB1-F2 localizes to the inner mitochondrial membrane in influenza A virus-infected cells. PB1-F2 appears to enhance virus-induced cell death in a cell type-dependent manner. For the present communication we have identified and characterized a region near the COOH terminus of PB1-F2 that is necessary and sufficient for its inner mitochondrial membrane localization, as determined by transient expression of chimeric proteins consisting of elements of PB1-F2 genetically fused to enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) in HeLa cells. Targeting of EGFP to mitochondria by this sequence resulted in the loss of the inner mitochondrial membrane potential, leading to cell death. The mitochondrial targeting sequence (MTS) is predicted to form a positively charged amphipathic α-helix and, as such, is similar to the MTS of the p13II protein of human T-cell leukemia virus type 1. We formally demonstrate the functional interchangeability of the two sequences for mitochondrial localization of PB1-F2. Mutation analysis of the putative amphipathic helix in the PB1-F2 reveals that replacement of five basic amino acids with Ala abolishes mitochondrial targeting, whereas mutation of two highly conserved Leu to Ala does not. These findings demonstrate that PB1-F2 possesses an MTS similar to other viral proteins and that this MTS, when fused to EGFP, is capable of independently compromising mitochondrial function and cellular viability.
PMCID: PMC164823  PMID: 12805420
19.  Intracellular Localization of Proteasomal Degradation of a Viral Antigen 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1999;146(1):113-124.
To better understand proteasomal degradation of nuclear proteins and viral antigens we studied mutated forms of influenza virus nucleoprotein (NP) that misfold and are rapidly degraded by proteasomes. In the presence of proteasome inhibitors, mutated NP (dNP) accumulates in highly insoluble ubiquitinated and nonubiquitinated species in nuclear substructures known as promyelocytic leukemia oncogenic domains (PODs) and the microtubule organizing center (MTOC). Immunofluorescence revealed that dNP recruits proteasomes and a selective assortment of molecular chaperones to both locales, and that a similar (though less dramatic) effect is induced by proteasome inhibitors in the absence of dNP expression. Biochemical evidence is consistent with the idea that dNP is delivered to PODs/MTOC in the absence of proteasome inhibitors. Restoring proteasome activity while blocking protein synthesis results in disappearance of dNP from PODs and the MTOC and the generation of a major histocompatibility complex class I–bound peptide derived from dNP but not NP. These findings demonstrate that PODs and the MTOC serve as sites of proteasomal degradation of misfolded dNP and probably cellular proteins as well, and imply that antigenic peptides are generated at one or both of these sites.
PMCID: PMC2199725  PMID: 10402464
antigen presentation; molecular; chaperone; nuclear proteins proteolysis; ubiquitin/immunology; proteasome
20.  Identification of Highly Attenuated Mutants of Simian Immunodeficiency Virus 
Journal of Virology  1998;72(2):1431-1437.
Deletion mutants of the pathogenic clone of simian immunodeficiency virus isolate 239 (SIVmac239) were derived that are missing nef, vpr, and upstream sequences (US) in the U3 region of the LTR (SIVmac239Δ3), nef, vpx, and US (SIVmac239Δ3x), and nef, vpr, vpx, and US (SIVmac239Δ4). These multiply deleted derivatives replicated well in the continuously growing CEMx174 cell line and were infectious for rhesus monkeys. However, on the basis of virus load measurements, strength of antibody responses, and lack of disease progression, these mutants were highly attenuated. Measurements of cell-associated viral load agreed well with assays of plasma viral RNA load and with the strengths of the antibody responses; thus, these measurements likely reflected the extent of viral replication in vivo. A derivative of SIVmac239 lacking vif sequences (SIVmac239Δvif) could be consistently grown only in a vif-complementing cell line. This Δvif virus appeared to be very weakly infectious for rhesus monkeys on the basis of sensitive antibody tests only. The weak antibody responses elicited by SIVmac239Δvif were apparently in response to low levels of replicating virus since they were not elicited by heat-inactivated virus and the anti-SIV antibody responses persisted for greater than 1 year. These results, and the results of previous studies, allow a rank ordering of the relative virulence of nine mutant strains of SIVmac according to the following order: Δvpr > Δvpx > ΔvprΔvpx ≅ Δnef > Δ3 > Δ3x ≥ Δ4 > Δvif > Δ5. The results also demonstrate that almost any desired level of attenuation can be achieved, ranging from still pathogenic in a significant proportion of animals (Δvpr and Δvpx) to not detectably infectious (Δ5), simply by varying the number and location of deletions in these five loci.
PMCID: PMC124623  PMID: 9445045

Results 1-20 (20)