How and why animals lose eyesight during adaptation to the dark and food-limited cave environment has puzzled biologists since the time of Darwin. More recently, several different adaptive hypotheses have been proposed to explain eye degeneration based on studies in the teleost Astyanax mexicanus, which consists of blind cave-dwelling (cavefish) and sighted surface-dwelling (surface fish) forms. One of these hypotheses is that eye regression is the result of indirect selection for constructive characters that are negatively linked to eye development through the pleiotropic effects of Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) signaling. However, subsequent genetic analyses suggested that other mechanisms also contribute to eye regression in Astyanax cavefish. Here, we introduce a new approach to this problem by investigating the phenotypic and genetic relationships between a suite of non-visual constructive traits and eye regression.
Using quantitative genetic analysis of crosses between surface fish, the Pachón cavefish population and their hybrid progeny, we show that the adaptive vibration attraction behavior (VAB) and its sensory receptors, superficial neuromasts (SN) specifically found within the cavefish eye orbit (EO), are genetically correlated with reduced eye size. The quantitative trait loci (QTL) for these three traits form two clusters of congruent or overlapping QTL on Astyanax linkage groups (LG) 2 and 17, but not at the shh locus on LG 13. Ablation of EO SN in cavefish demonstrated a major role for these sensory receptors in VAB expression. Furthermore, experimental induction of eye regression in surface fish via shh overexpression showed that the absence of eyes was insufficient to promote the appearance of VAB or EO SN.
We conclude that natural selection for the enhancement of VAB and EO SN indirectly promotes eye regression in the Pachón cavefish population through an antagonistic relationship involving genetic linkage or pleiotropy among the genetic factors underlying these traits. This study demonstrates a trade-off between the evolution of a non-visual sensory system and eye regression during the adaptive evolution of Astyanax to the cave environment.
animal behavior; regressive evolution; constructive evolution; neuromast; hedgehog; tradeoff; quantitative trait locus; eye; QTL cluster; adaptation
Calcium-activated photoproteins are luciferase variants found in photocyte cells of bioluminescent jellyfish (Phylum Cnidaria) and comb jellies (Phylum Ctenophora). The complete genomic sequence from the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi, a representative of the earliest branch of animals that emit light, provided an opportunity to examine the genome of an organism that uses this class of luciferase for bioluminescence and to look for genes involved in light reception. To determine when photoprotein genes first arose, we examined the genomic sequence from other early-branching taxa. We combined our genomic survey with gene trees, developmental expression patterns, and functional protein assays of photoproteins and opsins to provide a comprehensive view of light production and light reception in Mnemiopsis.
The Mnemiopsis genome has 10 full-length photoprotein genes situated within two genomic clusters with high sequence conservation that are maintained due to strong purifying selection and concerted evolution. Photoprotein-like genes were also identified in the genomes of the non-luminescent sponge Amphimedon queenslandica and the non-luminescent cnidarian Nematostella vectensis, and phylogenomic analysis demonstrated that photoprotein genes arose at the base of all animals. Photoprotein gene expression in Mnemiopsis embryos begins during gastrulation in migrating precursors to photocytes and persists throughout development in the canals where photocytes reside. We identified three putative opsin genes in the Mnemiopsis genome and show that they do not group with well-known bilaterian opsin subfamilies. Interestingly, photoprotein transcripts are co-expressed with two of the putative opsins in developing photocytes. Opsin expression is also seen in the apical sensory organ. We present evidence that one opsin functions as a photopigment in vitro, absorbing light at wavelengths that overlap with peak photoprotein light emission, raising the hypothesis that light production and light reception may be functionally connected in ctenophore photocytes. We also present genomic evidence of a complete ciliary phototransduction cascade in Mnemiopsis.
This study elucidates the genomic organization, evolutionary history, and developmental expression of photoprotein and opsin genes in the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi, introduces a novel dual role for ctenophore photocytes in both bioluminescence and phototransduction, and raises the possibility that light production and light reception are linked in this early-branching non-bilaterian animal.
Bioluminescence; ctenophore; Mnemiopsis leidyi; opsin; photocyte; photoprotein; photoreception; phototransduction
The dramatic ingression of tissue sheets that accompanies many morphogenetic processes, most notably gastrulation, has been largely attributed to contractile circum-apical actomyosin 'purse-strings' in the infolding cells. Recent studies, however, including one in BMC Biology, expose mechanisms that rely less on actomyosin contractility of purse-string bundles and more on dynamics in the global cortical actomyosin network of the cells. These studies illustrate how punctuated actomyosin contractions and flow of these networks can remodel both epithelial and planarly organized mesenchymal sheets.
The clockwise rotation of cilia in the developing mammalian embryo drives a leftward flow of liquid; this genetically regulated biophysical force specifies left-right asymmetry of the mammalian body. How leftward flow is interpreted and information propagated to other tissues is the subject of debate. Four recent papers have shed fresh light on the possible mechanisms.
Males and females differ in many ways and might present different opportunities and challenges to their parasites. In the same way that parasites adapt to the most common host type, they may adapt to the characteristics of the host sex they encounter most often. To explore this hypothesis, we characterized host sex-specific effects of the parasite Pasteuria ramosa, a bacterium evolving in naturally, strongly, female-biased populations of its host Daphnia magna.
We show that the parasite proliferates more successfully in female hosts than in male hosts, even though males and females are genetically identical. In addition, when exposure occurred when hosts expressed a sexual dimorphism, females were more infected. In both host sexes, the parasite causes a similar reduction in longevity and leads to some level of castration. However, only in females does parasite-induced castration result in the gigantism that increases the carrying capacity for the proliferating parasite.
We show that mature male and female Daphnia represent different environments and reveal one parasite-induced symptom (host castration), which leads to increased carrying capacity for parasite proliferation in female but not male hosts. We propose that parasite induced host castration is a property of parasites that evolved as an adaptation to specifically exploit female hosts.
Sex-specific adaptation; Daphnia; Pasteuria; local adaptation; gigantism; castration; biased sex-ratio
Among vertebrates lens regeneration is most pronounced in newts, which have the ability to regenerate the entire lens throughout their lives. Regeneration occurs from the dorsal iris by transdifferentiation of the pigment epithelial cells. Interestingly, the ventral iris never contributes to regeneration. Frogs have limited lens regeneration capacity elicited from the cornea during pre-metamorphic stages. The axolotl is another salamander which, like the newt, regenerates its limbs or its tail with the spinal cord, but up until now all reports have shown that it does not regenerate the lens.
Here we present a detailed analysis during different stages of axolotl development, and we show that despite previous beliefs the axolotl does regenerate the lens, however, only during a limited time after hatching. We have found that starting at stage 44 (forelimb bud stage) lens regeneration is possible for nearly two weeks. Regeneration occurs from the iris but, in contrast to the newt, regeneration can be elicited from either the dorsal or the ventral iris and, occasionally, even from both in the same eye. Similar studies in the zebra fish concluded that lens regeneration is not possible.
Regeneration of the lens is possible in the axolotl, but differs from both frogs and newts. Thus the axolotl iris provides a novel and more plastic strategy for lens regeneration.
Lens; Regeneration; Axolotl; Plasticity
In the absence of a vaccine or a cure, identification of novel HIV-1 inhibitors remains important. A paper in Retrovirology describes a rationally designed bi-specific protein that irreversibly damages the viral envelope glycoprotein complex via a two-punch mechanism. In contrast to traditional drugs that inhibit essential steps in the viral life cycle at the cell surface or in the infected cells, this inhibitor cripples free virus in the absence of cells.
See research article: http://www.retrovirology.com/content/9/1/104
Harmful algal blooms deteriorate the services of aquatic ecosystems. They are often formed by cyanobacteria composed of genotypes able to produce a certain toxin, for example, the hepatotoxin microcystin (MC), but also of nontoxic genotypes that either carry mutations in the genes encoding toxin synthesis or that lost those genes during evolution. In general, cyanobacterial blooms are favored by eutrophication. Very little is known about the stability of the toxic/nontoxic genotype composition during trophic change.
Archived samples of preserved phytoplankton on filters from aquatic ecosystems that underwent changes in the trophic state provide a so far unrealized possibility to analyze the response of toxic/nontoxic genotype composition to the environment. During a period of 29 years of re-oligotrophication of the deep, physically stratified Lake Zürich (1980 to 2008), the population of the stratifying cyanobacterium Planktothrix was at a minimum during the most eutrophic years (1980 to 1984), but increased and dominated the phytoplankton during the past two decades. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction revealed that during the whole observation period the proportion of the toxic genotype was strikingly stable, that is, close to 100%. Inactive MC genotypes carrying mutations within the MC synthesis genes never became abundant. Unexpectedly, a nontoxic genotype, which lost its MC genes during evolution, and which could be shown to be dominant under eutrophic conditions in shallow polymictic lakes, also co-occurred in Lake Zürich but was never abundant. As it is most likely that this nontoxic genotype contains relatively weak gas vesicles unable to withstand the high water pressure in deep lakes, it is concluded that regular deep mixing selectively reduced its abundance through the destruction of gas vesicles.
The stability in toxic genotype dominance gives evidence for the adaptation to deep mixing of a genotype that retained the MC gene cluster during evolution. Such a long-term dominance of a toxic genotype draws attention to the need to integrate phylogenetics into ecological research as well as ecosystem management.
allelic discrimination assay; eutrophication; genetic population structure; harmful algal blooms; historic samples; long-term monitoring; microcystin
In complex animal vocalizations, such as bird or whale song, a great variety of songs can be produced via rearrangements of a smaller set of 'syllables', known as 'phonological syntax' or 'phonocoding' However, food or alarm calls, which function as referential signals, were previously thought to lack such combinatorial structure. A new study of calls in the banded mongoose Mungos mungo provides the first evidence of phonocoding at the level of single calls. The first portion of the call provides cues to the identity of the caller, and the second part encodes its current activity. This provides the first example known in animals of something akin to the consonants and vowels of human speech.
See research article http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7007/10/97
All animals are anatomically constrained in the number of discrete call types they can produce. Recent studies suggest that by combining existing calls into meaningful sequences, animals can increase the information content of their vocal repertoire despite these constraints. Additionally, signalers can use vocal signatures or cues correlated to other individual traits or contexts to increase the information encoded in their vocalizations. However, encoding multiple vocal signatures or cues using the same components of vocalizations usually reduces the signals' reliability. Segregation of information could effectively circumvent this trade-off. In this study we investigate how banded mongooses (Mungos mungo) encode multiple vocal signatures or cues in their frequently emitted graded single syllable close calls.
The data for this study were collected on a wild, but habituated, population of banded mongooses. Using behavioral observations and acoustical analysis we found that close calls contain two acoustically different segments. The first being stable and individually distinct, and the second being graded and correlating with the current behavior of the individual, whether it is digging, searching or moving. This provides evidence of Marler's hypothesis on temporal segregation of information within a single syllable call type. Additionally, our work represents an example of an identity cue integrated as a discrete segment within a single call that is independent from context. This likely functions to avoid ambiguity between individuals or receivers having to keep track of several context-specific identity cues.
Our study provides the first evidence of segmental concatenation of information within a single syllable in non-human vocalizations. By reviewing descriptions of call structures in the literature, we suggest a general application of this mechanism. Our study indicates that temporal segregation and segmental concatenation of vocal signatures or cues is likely a common, but so far neglected, dimension of information coding in animal vocal communication. We argue that temporal segregation of vocal signatures and cues evolves in species where communication of multiple unambiguous signals is crucial, but is limited by the number of call types produced.
vocal signature; vocal cue; syllable; close call; segregation of information; graded calls; banded mongoose; segmental concatenation
Pupylation is a post-translational protein modification occurring in actinobacteria through which the small, intrinsically disordered protein Pup (prokaryotic ubiquitin-like protein) is conjugated to lysine residues of proteins, marking them for proteasomal degradation. Although functionally related to ubiquitination, pupylation is carried out by different enzymes that are evolutionarily linked to bacterial carboxylate-amine ligases. Here, we compare the mechanism of Pup-conjugation to target proteins with ubiquitination, describe the evolutionary emergence of pupylation and discuss the importance of this pathway for survival of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in the host.
We have investigated a simple strategy for enhancing transgene expression specificity by leveraging genetic silencer elements. The approach serves to restrict transgene expression to a tissue of interest - the nervous system in the example provided here - thereby promoting specific/exclusive targeting of discrete cellular subtypes. Recent innovations are bringing us closer to understanding how the brain is organized, how neural circuits function, and how neurons can be regenerated. Fluorescent proteins enable mapping of the 'connectome', optogenetic tools allow excitable cells to be short-circuited or hyperactivated, and targeted ablation of neuronal subtypes facilitates investigations of circuit function and neuronal regeneration. Optimally, such toolsets need to be expressed solely within the cell types of interest as off-site expression makes establishing causal relationships difficult. To address this, we have exploited a gene 'silencing' system that promotes neuronal specificity by repressing expression in non-neural tissues. This methodology solves non-specific background issues that plague large-scale enhancer trap efforts and may provide a means of leveraging promoters/enhancers that otherwise express too broadly to be of value for in vivo manipulations.
We show that a conserved neuron-restrictive silencer element (NRSE) can function to restrict transgene expression to the nervous system. The neuron-restrictive silencing factor/repressor element 1 silencing transcription factor (NRSF/REST) transcriptional repressor binds NRSE/repressor element 1 (RE1) sites and silences gene expression in non-neuronal cells. Inserting NRSE sites into transgenes strongly biased expression to neural tissues. NRSE sequences were effective in restricting expression of bipartite Gal4-based 'driver' transgenes within the context of an enhancer trap and when associated with a defined promoter and enhancer. However, NRSE sequences did not serve to restrict expression of an upstream activating sequence (UAS)-based reporter/effector transgene when associated solely with the UAS element. Morpholino knockdown assays showed that NRSF/REST expression is required for NRSE-based transgene silencing.
Our findings demonstrate that the addition of NRSE sequences to transgenes can provide useful new tools for functional studies of the nervous system. However, the general approach may be more broadly applicable; tissue-specific silencer elements are operable in tissues other than the nervous system, suggesting this approach can be similarly applied to other paradigms. Thus, creating synthetic associations between endogenous regulatory elements and tissue-specific silencers may facilitate targeting of cellular subtypes for which defined promoters/enhancers are lacking.
zebrafish; transgenesis; enhancer trap; NRSE/RE1; NRSF/REST; Gal4/UAS; neuron
Conditional gene knockout (cKO) mediated by the Cre/LoxP system is indispensable for exploring gene functions in mice. However, a major limitation of this method is that gene KO is not reversible. A number of methods have been developed to overcome this, but each method has its own limitations.
We describe a simple method we have named LOFT [LoxP-flippase (FLP) recognition target (FRT) Trap], which is capable of reversible cKO and free of the limitations associated with existing techniques. This method involves two alleles of a target gene: a standard floxed allele, and a multi-functional allele bearing an FRT-flanked gene-trap cassette, which inactivates the target gene while reporting its expression with green fluorescent protein (GFP); the trapped allele is thus a null and GFP reporter by default, but is convertible into a wild-type allele. The floxed and trapped alleles can typically be generated using a single construct bearing a gene-trap cassette doubly flanked by LoxP and FRT sites, and can be used independently to achieve conditional and constitutive gene KO, respectively. More importantly, in mice bearing both alleles and also expressing the Cre and FLP recombinases, sequential function of the two enzymes should lead to deletion of the target gene, followed by restoration of its expression, thus achieving reversible cKO. LOFT should be generally applicable to mouse genes, including the growing numbers of genes already floxed; in the latter case, only the trapped alleles need to be generated to confer reversibility to the pre-existing cKO models. LOFT has other applications, including the creation and reversal of hypomorphic mutations. In this study we proved the principle of LOFT in the context of T-cell development, at a hypomorphic allele of Baf57/Smarce1 encoding a subunit of the chromatin-remodeling Brg/Brahma-associated factor (BAF) complex. Interestingly, the FLP used in the current work caused efficient reversal in peripheral T cells but not thymocytes, which is advantageous for studying developmental epigenetic programming of T-cell functions, a fundamental issue in immunology.
LOFT combines well-established basic genetic methods into a simple and reliable method for reversible gene targeting, with the flexibility of achieving traditional constitutive and conditional KO.
Gastrulation is a key transition in embryogenesis; it requires self-organized cellular coordination, which has to be both robust to allow efficient development and plastic to provide adaptability. Despite the conservation of gastrulation as a key event in Metazoan embryogenesis, the morphogenetic mechanisms of self-organization (how global order or coordination can arise from local interactions) are poorly understood.
We report a modular structure of cell internalization in Caenorhabditis elegans gastrulation that reveals mechanisms of self-organization. Cells that internalize during gastrulation show apical contractile flows, which are correlated with centripetal extensions from surrounding cells. These extensions converge to seal over the internalizing cells in the form of rosettes. This process represents a distinct mode of monolayer remodeling, with gradual extrusion of the internalizing cells and simultaneous tissue closure without an actin purse-string. We further report that this self-organizing module can adapt to severe topological alterations, providing evidence of scalability and plasticity of actomyosin-based patterning. Finally, we show that globally, the surface cell layer undergoes coplanar division to thin out and spread over the internalizing mass, which resembles epiboly.
The combination of coplanar division-based spreading and recurrent local modules for piecemeal internalization constitutes a system-level solution of gradual volume rearrangement under spatial constraint. Our results suggest that the mode of C. elegans gastrulation can be unified with the general notions of monolayer remodeling and with distinct cellular mechanisms of actomyosin-based morphogenesis.
C. elegans; gastrulation; actomyosin; cellular rosette
Logic-derived modeling has been used to map biological networks and to study arbitrary functional interactions, and fine-grained kinetic modeling can accurately predict the detailed behavior of well-characterized molecular systems; at present, however, neither approach comes close to unraveling the full complexity of a cell. The current data revolution offers significant promises and challenges to both approaches - and could bring them together as it has spurred the development of new methods and tools that may help to bridge the many gaps between data, models, and mechanistic understanding.
Have you used logic modeling in your research? It would not be surprising if many biologists would answer no to this hypothetical question. And it would not be true. In high school biology we already became familiar with cartoon diagrams that illustrate basic mechanisms of the molecular machinery operating inside cells. These are nothing else but simple logic models. If receptor and ligand are present, then receptor-ligand complexes form; if a receptor-ligand complex exists, then an enzyme gets activated; if the enzyme is active, then a second messenger is being produced; and so on. Such chains of causality are the essence of logic models (Figure 1a). Arbitrary events and mechanisms are abstracted; relationships are simplified and usually involve just two possible conditions and three possible consequences. The presence or absence of one or more molecule, activity, or function, [some icons in the cartoon] will determine whether another one of them will be produced (created, up-regulated, stimulated) [a 'positive' link] or destroyed (degraded, down-regulated, inhibited) [a 'negative' link], or be unaffected [there is no link]. The icons and links often do not follow a standardized format, but when we look at such a cartoon diagram, we believe that we 'understand' how the system works. Because our brain is easily able to process these relationships, these diagrams allow us to answer two fundamental types of questions related to the system: why (are certain things happening)? What if (we make some changes)?
Most if not all animals sense temperature using specialized thermosensory neurons. Genetic studies in simple organisms have been used to identify gene products required for detecting temperature changes or for mediating the effects of temperature on behaviour. A recent study has used automated imaging and multidimensional phenotyping to characterize behavioural responses to aversive temperature changes and to identify mutants with specific defects in these processes.
See research article: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7007/10/85
Many biological studies are carried out on large populations of cells, often in order to obtain enough material to make measurements. However, we now know that noise is endemic in biological systems and this results in cell-to-cell variability in what appears to be a population of identical cells. Although often neglected, this noise can have a dramatic effect on system responses to environmental cues with significant and often counter-intuitive biological outcomes. A recent study in BMC Systems Biology provides an example of this, documenting a bimodal distribution of activated extracellular signal-regulated kinase in a population of cells exposed to epidermal growth factor and demonstrating that the observed bimodality of the response is induced purely by noise.
See research article: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1752-0509/6/109
cybertaxonomy; open access publishing; semantic content; XML markup
Responding to noxious stimuli by invoking an appropriate escape response is critical for survival of an organism. The sensations of small and large changes in temperature in most organisms have been studied separately in the context of thermotaxis and nociception, respectively. Here we use the nematode C. elegans to address the neurogenetic basis of responses to thermal stimuli over a broad range of intensities.
C. elegans responds to aversive temperature by eliciting a stereotypical behavioral sequence. Upon sensation of the noxious stimulus, it moves backwards, turns and resumes forward movement in a new direction. In order to study the response of C. elegans to a broad range of noxious thermal stimuli, we developed a novel assay that allows simultaneous characterization of multiple aspects of escape behavior elicited by thermal pulses of increasing amplitudes. We exposed the laboratory strain N2, as well as 47 strains with defects in various aspects of nervous system function, to thermal pulses ranging from ΔT = 0.4°C to 9.1°C and recorded the resulting behavioral profiles.
Through analysis of the multidimensional behavioral profiles, we found that the combinations of molecules shaping avoidance responses to a given thermal pulse are unique. At different intensities of aversive thermal stimuli, these distinct combinations of molecules converge onto qualitatively similar stereotyped behavioral sequences.
Nociception; dimensionality reduction; ethology; thermal sensation
A half century after John Gurdon demonstrated nuclear reprogramming, for which he was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, his group provides insights into the molecular mechanisms whereby chromatin remodeling is required for nuclear reprogramming. Among the issues addressed in Gurdon's latest work are the chromatin impediments to artificially induced reprogramming, discovered by Shinya Yamanaka, who shared the award with Gurdon.
See research article: http://www.epigeneticsandchromatin.com/content/5/1/17
Seed plants are composed of angiosperms and gymnosperms, which diverged from each other around 300 million years ago. While much light has been shed on the mechanisms and rate of genome evolution in flowering plants, such knowledge remains conspicuously meagre for the gymnosperms. Conifers are key representatives of gymnosperms and the sheer size of their genomes represents a significant challenge for characterization, sequencing and assembling.
To gain insight into the macro-organisation and long-term evolution of the conifer genome, we developed a genetic map involving 1,801 spruce genes. We designed a statistical approach based on kernel density estimation to analyse gene density and identified seven gene-rich isochors. Groups of co-localizing genes were also found that were transcriptionally co-regulated, indicative of functional clusters. Phylogenetic analyses of 157 gene families for which at least two duplicates were mapped on the spruce genome indicated that ancient gene duplicates shared by angiosperms and gymnosperms outnumbered conifer-specific duplicates by a ratio of eight to one. Ancient duplicates were much more translocated within and among spruce chromosomes than conifer-specific duplicates, which were mostly organised in tandem arrays. Both high synteny and collinearity were also observed between the genomes of spruce and pine, two conifers that diverged more than 100 million years ago.
Taken together, these results indicate that much genomic evolution has occurred in the seed plant lineage before the split between gymnosperms and angiosperms, and that the pace of evolution of the genome macro-structure has been much slower in the gymnosperm lineage leading to extent conifers than that seen for the same period of time in flowering plants. This trend is largely congruent with the contrasted rates of diversification and morphological evolution observed between these two groups of seed plants.
Angiosperm; duplication; evolution; gene families; genetic map; gymnosperm; phylogenomics; Picea; spruce; structural genomics