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Title: Mitochondrial genomes of Columbicola feather lice are highly fragmented, indicating repeated evolution of minicircle-type genomes in parasitic lice
Most animals have a conserved mitochondrial genome structure composed of a single chromosome. However, some organisms have their mitochondrial genes separated on several smaller circular or linear chromosomes. Highly fragmented circular chromosomes (“minicircles”) are especially prevalent in parasitic lice (Insecta: Phthiraptera), with 16 species known to have between nine and 20 mitochondrial minicircles per genome. All of these species belong to the same clade (mammalian lice), suggesting a single origin of drastic fragmentation. Nevertheless, other work indicates a lesser degree of fragmentation (2–3 chromosomes/genome) is present in some avian feather lice (Ischnocera: Philopteridae). In this study, we tested for minicircles in four species of the feather louse genus Columbicola (Philopteridae). Using whole genome shotgun sequence data, we applied three different bioinformatic approaches for assembling the Columbicola mitochondrial genome. We further confirmed these approaches by assembling the mitochondrial genome of Pediculus humanus from shotgun sequencing reads, a species known to have minicircles. Columbicola spp. genomes are highly fragmented into 15–17 minicircles between ∼1,100 and ∼3,100 bp in length, with 1–4 genes per minicircle. Subsequent annotation of the minicircles indicated that tRNA arrangements of minicircles varied substantially between species. These mitochondrial minicircles for species of Columbicola represent the first feather lice (Philopteridae) more » for which minicircles have been found in a full mitochondrial genome assembly. Combined with recent phylogenetic studies of parasitic lice, our results provide strong evidence that highly fragmented mitochondrial genomes, which are otherwise rare across the Tree of Life, evolved multiple times within parasitic lice. « less
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  1. Abstract

    The mitochondrial genomes (mitogenomes) of bilaterian animals are highly conserved structures that usually consist of a single circular chromosome. However, several species of parasitic lice (Insecta: Phthiraptera) possess fragmented mitogenomes, where the mitochondrial genes are present on separate, circular chromosomes. Nevertheless, the extent, causes, and consequences of this structural variation remain poorly understood. Here, we combined new and existing data to better understand the evolution of mitogenome fragmentation in major groups of parasitic lice. We found strong evidence that fragmented mitogenomes evolved many times within parasitic lice and that the level of fragmentation is highly variable, including examples of heteroplasmic arrangements. We also found a significant association between mitochondrial fragmentation and signatures of relaxed selection. Mitochondrial fragmentation was also associated with changes to a lower AT%, possibly due to differences in mutation biases. Together, our results provide a significant advance in understanding the process of mitogenome fragmentation and provide an important perspective on mitochondrial evolution in eukaryotes.

  2. Next-generation sequencing technologies are revolutionizing the fields of genomics, phylogenetics, and population genetics. These new genomic approaches have been extensively applied to a major group of parasites, the lice (Insecta: Phthiraptera) of birds and mammals. Two louse genomes have been assembled and annotated to date, and these have opened up new resources for the study of louse biology. Whole genome sequencing has been used to assemble large phylogenomic datasets for lice, incorporating sequences of thousands of genes. These datasets have provided highly supported trees at all taxonomic levels, ranging from relationships among the major groups of lice to those among closely related species. Such approaches have also been applied at the population scale in lice, revealing patterns of population subdivision and inbreeding. Finally, whole genome sequence datasets can also be used for additional study beyond that of the louse nuclear genome, such as in the study of mitochondrial genome fragmentation or endosymbiont function.
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