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  1. INTRODUCTION Resolving the role that different environmental forces may have played in the apparent explosive diversification of modern placental mammals is crucial to understanding the evolutionary context of their living and extinct morphological and genomic diversity. RATIONALE Limited access to whole-genome sequence alignments that sample living mammalian biodiversity has hampered phylogenomic inference, which until now has been limited to relatively small, highly constrained sequence matrices often representing <2% of a typical mammalian genome. To eliminate this sampling bias, we used an alignment of 241 whole genomes to comprehensively identify and rigorously analyze noncoding, neutrally evolving sequence variation in coalescent and concatenation-based phylogenetic frameworks. These analyses were followed by validation with multiple classes of phylogenetically informative structural variation. This approach enabled the generation of a robust time tree for placental mammals that evaluated age variation across hundreds of genomic loci that are not restricted by protein coding annotations. RESULTS Coalescent and concatenation phylogenies inferred from multiple treatments of the data were highly congruent, including support for higher-level taxonomic groupings that unite primates+colugos with treeshrews (Euarchonta), bats+cetartiodactyls+perissodactyls+carnivorans+pangolins (Scrotifera), all scrotiferans excluding bats (Fereuungulata), and carnivorans+pangolins with perissodactyls (Zooamata). However, because these approaches infer a single best tree, they mask signatures of phylogenetic conflict that result from incomplete lineage sorting and historical hybridization. Accordingly, we also inferred phylogenies from thousands of noncoding loci distributed across chromosomes with historically contrasting recombination rates. Throughout the radiation of modern orders (such as rodents, primates, bats, and carnivores), we observed notable differences between locus trees inferred from the autosomes and the X chromosome, a pattern typical of speciation with gene flow. We show that in many cases, previously controversial phylogenetic relationships can be reconciled by examining the distribution of conflicting phylogenetic signals along chromosomes with variable historical recombination rates. Lineage divergence time estimates were notably uniform across genomic loci and robust to extensive sensitivity analyses in which the underlying data, fossil constraints, and clock models were varied. The earliest branching events in the placental phylogeny coincide with the breakup of continental landmasses and rising sea levels in the Late Cretaceous. This signature of allopatric speciation is congruent with the low genomic conflict inferred for most superordinal relationships. By contrast, we observed a second pulse of diversification immediately after the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event superimposed on an episode of rapid land emergence. Greater geographic continuity coupled with tumultuous climatic changes and increased ecological landscape at this time provided enhanced opportunities for mammalian diversification, as depicted in the fossil record. These observations dovetail with increased phylogenetic conflict observed within clades that diversified in the Cenozoic. CONCLUSION Our genome-wide analysis of multiple classes of sequence variation provides the most comprehensive assessment of placental mammal phylogeny, resolves controversial relationships, and clarifies the timing of mammalian diversification. We propose that the combination of Cretaceous continental fragmentation and lineage isolation, followed by the direct and indirect effects of the K-Pg extinction at a time of rapid land emergence, synergistically contributed to the accelerated diversification rate of placental mammals during the early Cenozoic. The timing of placental mammal evolution. Superordinal mammalian diversification took place in the Cretaceous during periods of continental fragmentation and sea level rise with little phylogenomic discordance (pie charts: left, autosomes; right, X chromosome), which is consistent with allopatric speciation. By contrast, the Paleogene hosted intraordinal diversification in the aftermath of the K-Pg mass extinction event, when clades exhibited higher phylogenomic discordance consistent with speciation with gene flow and incomplete lineage sorting. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 28, 2024
  2. INTRODUCTION A major challenge in genomics is discerning which bases among billions alter organismal phenotypes and affect health and disease risk. Evidence of past selective pressure on a base, whether highly conserved or fast evolving, is a marker of functional importance. Bases that are unchanged in all mammals may shape phenotypes that are essential for organismal health. Bases that are evolving quickly in some species, or changed only in species that share an adaptive trait, may shape phenotypes that support survival in specific niches. Identifying bases associated with exceptional capacity for cellular recovery, such as in species that hibernate, could inform therapeutic discovery. RATIONALE The power and resolution of evolutionary analyses scale with the number and diversity of species compared. By analyzing genomes for hundreds of placental mammals, we can detect which individual bases in the genome are exceptionally conserved (constrained) and likely to be functionally important in both coding and noncoding regions. By including species that represent all orders of placental mammals and aligning genomes using a method that does not require designating humans as the reference species, we explore unusual traits in other species. RESULTS Zoonomia’s mammalian comparative genomics resources are the most comprehensive and statistically well-powered produced to date, with a protein-coding alignment of 427 mammals and a whole-genome alignment of 240 placental mammals representing all orders. We estimate that at least 10.7% of the human genome is evolutionarily conserved relative to neutrally evolving repeats and identify about 101 million significantly constrained single bases (false discovery rate < 0.05). We cataloged 4552 ultraconserved elements at least 20 bases long that are identical in more than 98% of the 240 placental mammals. Many constrained bases have no known function, illustrating the potential for discovery using evolutionary measures. Eighty percent are outside protein-coding exons, and half have no functional annotations in the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) resource. Constrained bases tend to vary less within human populations, which is consistent with purifying selection. Species threatened with extinction have few substitutions at constrained sites, possibly because severely deleterious alleles have been purged from their small populations. By pairing Zoonomia’s genomic resources with phenotype annotations, we find genomic elements associated with phenotypes that differ between species, including olfaction, hibernation, brain size, and vocal learning. We associate genomic traits, such as the number of olfactory receptor genes, with physical phenotypes, such as the number of olfactory turbinals. By comparing hibernators and nonhibernators, we implicate genes involved in mitochondrial disorders, protection against heat stress, and longevity in this physiologically intriguing phenotype. Using a machine learning–based approach that predicts tissue-specific cis - regulatory activity in hundreds of species using data from just a few, we associate changes in noncoding sequence with traits for which humans are exceptional: brain size and vocal learning. CONCLUSION Large-scale comparative genomics opens new opportunities to explore how genomes evolved as mammals adapted to a wide range of ecological niches and to discover what is shared across species and what is distinctively human. High-quality data for consistently defined phenotypes are necessary to realize this potential. Through partnerships with researchers in other fields, comparative genomics can address questions in human health and basic biology while guiding efforts to protect the biodiversity that is essential to these discoveries. Comparing genomes from 240 species to explore the evolution of placental mammals. Our new phylogeny (black lines) has alternating gray and white shading, which distinguishes mammalian orders (labeled around the perimeter). Rings around the phylogeny annotate species phenotypes. Seven species with diverse traits are illustrated, with black lines marking their branch in the phylogeny. Sequence conservation across species is described at the top left. IMAGE CREDIT: K. MORRILL 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 28, 2024
  3. INTRODUCTION Diverse phenotypes, including large brains relative to body size, group living, and vocal learning ability, have evolved multiple times throughout mammalian history. These shared phenotypes may have arisen repeatedly by means of common mechanisms discernible through genome comparisons. RATIONALE Protein-coding sequence differences have failed to fully explain the evolution of multiple mammalian phenotypes. This suggests that these phenotypes have evolved at least in part through changes in gene expression, meaning that their differences across species may be caused by differences in genome sequence at enhancer regions that control gene expression in specific tissues and cell types. Yet the enhancers involved in phenotype evolution are largely unknown. Sequence conservation–based approaches for identifying such enhancers are limited because enhancer activity can be conserved even when the individual nucleotides within the sequence are poorly conserved. This is due to an overwhelming number of cases where nucleotides turn over at a high rate, but a similar combination of transcription factor binding sites and other sequence features can be maintained across millions of years of evolution, allowing the function of the enhancer to be conserved in a particular cell type or tissue. Experimentally measuring the function of orthologous enhancers across dozens of species is currently infeasible, but new machine learning methods make it possible to make reliable sequence-based predictions of enhancer function across species in specific tissues and cell types. RESULTS To overcome the limits of studying individual nucleotides, we developed the Tissue-Aware Conservation Inference Toolkit (TACIT). Rather than measuring the extent to which individual nucleotides are conserved across a region, TACIT uses machine learning to test whether the function of a given part of the genome is likely to be conserved. More specifically, convolutional neural networks learn the tissue- or cell type–specific regulatory code connecting genome sequence to enhancer activity using candidate enhancers identified from only a few species. This approach allows us to accurately associate differences between species in tissue or cell type–specific enhancer activity with genome sequence differences at enhancer orthologs. We then connect these predictions of enhancer function to phenotypes across hundreds of mammals in a way that accounts for species’ phylogenetic relatedness. We applied TACIT to identify candidate enhancers from motor cortex and parvalbumin neuron open chromatin data that are associated with brain size relative to body size, solitary living, and vocal learning across 222 mammals. Our results include the identification of multiple candidate enhancers associated with brain size relative to body size, several of which are located in linear or three-dimensional proximity to genes whose protein-coding mutations have been implicated in microcephaly or macrocephaly in humans. We also identified candidate enhancers associated with the evolution of solitary living near a gene implicated in separation anxiety and other enhancers associated with the evolution of vocal learning ability. We obtained distinct results for bulk motor cortex and parvalbumin neurons, demonstrating the value in applying TACIT to both bulk tissue and specific minority cell type populations. To facilitate future analyses of our results and applications of TACIT, we released predicted enhancer activity of >400,000 candidate enhancers in each of 222 mammals and their associations with the phenotypes we investigated. CONCLUSION TACIT leverages predicted enhancer activity conservation rather than nucleotide-level conservation to connect genetic sequence differences between species to phenotypes across large numbers of mammals. TACIT can be applied to any phenotype with enhancer activity data available from at least a few species in a relevant tissue or cell type and a whole-genome alignment available across dozens of species with substantial phenotypic variation. Although we developed TACIT for transcriptional enhancers, it could also be applied to genomic regions involved in other components of gene regulation, such as promoters and splicing enhancers and silencers. As the number of sequenced genomes grows, machine learning approaches such as TACIT have the potential to help make sense of how conservation of, or changes in, subtle genome patterns can help explain phenotype evolution. Tissue-Aware Conservation Inference Toolkit (TACIT) associates genetic differences between species with phenotypes. TACIT works by generating open chromatin data from a few species in a tissue related to a phenotype, using the sequences underlying open and closed chromatin regions to train a machine learning model for predicting tissue-specific open chromatin and associating open chromatin predictions across dozens of mammals with the phenotype. [Species silhouettes are from PhyloPic] 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 28, 2024
  4. INTRODUCTION The Anthropocene is marked by an accelerated loss of biodiversity, widespread population declines, and a global conservation crisis. Given limited resources for conservation intervention, an approach is needed to identify threatened species from among the thousands lacking adequate information for status assessments. Such prioritization for intervention could come from genome sequence data, as genomes contain information about demography, diversity, fitness, and adaptive potential. However, the relevance of genomic data for identifying at-risk species is uncertain, in part because genetic variation may reflect past events and life histories better than contemporary conservation status. RATIONALE The Zoonomia multispecies alignment presents an opportunity to systematically compare neutral and functional genomic diversity and their relationships to contemporary extinction risk across a large sample of diverse mammalian taxa. We surveyed 240 species spanning from the “Least Concern” to “Critically Endangered” categories, as published in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. Using a single genome for each species, we estimated historical effective population sizes ( N e ) and distributions of genome-wide heterozygosity. To estimate genetic load, we identified substitutions relative to reconstructed ancestral sequences, assuming that mutations at evolutionarily conserved sites and in protein-coding sequences, especially in genes essential for viability in mice, are predominantly deleterious. We examined relationships between the conservation status of species and metrics of heterozygosity, demography, and genetic load and used these data to train and test models to distinguish threatened from nonthreatened species. RESULTS Species with smaller historical N e are more likely to be categorized as at risk of extinction, suggesting that demography, even from periods more than 10,000 years in the past, may be informative of contemporary resilience. Species with smaller historical N e also carry proportionally higher burdens of weakly and moderately deleterious alleles, consistent with theoretical expectations of the long-term accumulation and fixation of genetic load under strong genetic drift. We found weak support for a causative link between fixed drift load and extinction risk; however, other types of genetic load not captured in our data, such as rare, highly deleterious alleles, may also play a role. Although ecological (e.g., physiological, life-history, and behavioral) variables were the best predictors of extinction risk, genomic variables nonrandomly distinguished threatened from nonthreatened species in regression and machine learning models. These results suggest that information encoded within even a single genome can provide a risk assessment in the absence of adequate ecological or population census data. CONCLUSION Our analysis highlights the potential for genomic data to rapidly and inexpensively gauge extinction risk by leveraging relationships between contemporary conservation status and genetic variation shaped by the long-term demographic history of species. As more resequencing data and additional reference genomes become available, estimates of genetic load, estimates of recent demographic history, and accuracy of predictive models will improve. We therefore echo calls for including genomic information in assessments of the conservation status of species. Genomic information can help predict extinction risk in diverse mammalian species. Across 240 mammals, species with smaller historical N e had lower genetic diversity, higher genetic load, and were more likely to be threatened with extinction. Genomic data were used to train models that predict whether a species is threatened, which can be valuable for assessing extinction risk in species lacking ecological or census data. [Animal silhouettes are from PhyloPic] 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 28, 2024
  5. null (Ed.)
    The novel coronavirus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the cause of COVID-19. The main receptor of SARS-CoV-2, angiotensin I converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), is now undergoing extensive scrutiny to understand the routes of transmission and sensitivity in different species. Here, we utilized a unique dataset of ACE2 sequences from 410 vertebrate species, including 252 mammals, to study the conservation of ACE2 and its potential to be used as a receptor by SARS-CoV-2. We designed a five-category binding score based on the conservation properties of 25 amino acids important for the binding between ACE2 and the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Only mammals fell into the medium to very high categories and only catarrhine primates into the very high category, suggesting that they are at high risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection. We employed a protein structural analysis to qualitatively assess whether amino acid changes at variable residues would be likely to disrupt ACE2/SARS-CoV-2 spike protein binding and found the number of predicted unfavorable changes significantly correlated with the binding score. Extending this analysis to human population data, we found only rare (frequency <0.001) variants in 10/25 binding sites. In addition, we found significant signals of selection and accelerated evolution in the ACE2 coding sequence across all mammals, and specific to the bat lineage. Our results, if confirmed by additional experimental data, may lead to the identification of intermediate host species for SARS-CoV-2, guide the selection of animal models of COVID-19, and assist the conservation of animals both in native habitats and in human care. 
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  6. INTRODUCTION Thousands of genetic variants have been associated with human diseases and traits through genome-wide association studies (GWASs). Translating these discoveries into improved therapeutics requires discerning which variants among hundreds of candidates are causally related to disease risk. To date, only a handful of causal variants have been confirmed. Here, we leverage 100 million years of mammalian evolution to address this major challenge. RATIONALE We compared genomes from hundreds of mammals and identified bases with unusually few variants (evolutionarily constrained). Constraint is a measure of functional importance that is agnostic to cell type or developmental stage. It can be applied to investigate any heritable disease or trait and is complementary to resources using cell type– and time point–specific functional assays like Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) and Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx). RESULTS Using constraint calculated across placental mammals, 3.3% of bases in the human genome are significantly constrained, including 57.6% of coding bases. Most constrained bases (80.7%) are noncoding. Common variants (allele frequency ≥ 5%) and low-frequency variants (0.5% ≤ allele frequency < 5%) are depleted for constrained bases (1.85 versus 3.26% expected by chance, P < 2.2 × 10 −308 ). Pathogenic ClinVar variants are more constrained than benign variants ( P < 2.2 × 10 −16 ). The most constrained common variants are more enriched for disease single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)–heritability in 63 independent GWASs. The enrichment of SNP-heritability in constrained regions is greater (7.8-fold) than previously reported in mammals and is even higher in primates (11.1-fold). It exceeds the enrichment of SNP-heritability in nonsynonymous coding variants (7.2-fold) and fine-mapped expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL)–SNPs (4.8-fold). The enrichment peaks near constrained bases, with a log-linear decrease of SNP-heritability enrichment as a function of the distance to a constrained base. Zoonomia constraint scores improve functionally informed fine-mapping. Variants at sites constrained in mammals and primates have greater posterior inclusion probabilities and higher per-SNP contributions. In addition, using both constraint and functional annotations improves polygenic risk score accuracy across a range of traits. Finally, incorporating constraint information into the analysis of noncoding somatic variants in medulloblastomas identifies new candidate driver genes. CONCLUSION Genome-wide measures of evolutionary constraint can help discern which variants are functionally important. This information may accelerate the translation of genomic discoveries into the biological, clinical, and therapeutic knowledge that is required to understand and treat human disease. Using evolutionary constraint in genomic studies of human diseases. ( A ) Constraint was calculated across 240 mammal species, including 43 primates (teal line). ( B ) Pathogenic ClinVar variants ( N = 73,885) are more constrained across mammals than benign variants ( N = 231,642; P < 2.2 × 10 −16 ). ( C ) More-constrained bases are more enriched for trait-associated variants (63 GWASs). ( D ) Enrichment of heritability is higher in constrained regions than in functional annotations (left), even in a joint model with 106 annotations (right). ( E ) Fine-mapping (PolyFun) using a model that includes constraint scores identifies an experimentally validated association at rs1421085. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals. BMI, body mass index; LF, low frequency; PIP, posterior inclusion probability. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 28, 2024
  7. null (Ed.)
    The Zoonomia Project is investigating the genomics of shared and specialized traits in eutherian mammals. Here we provide genome assemblies for 131 species, of which all but 9 are previously uncharacterized, and describe a whole-genome alignment of 240 species of considerable phylogenetic diversity, comprising representatives from more than 80% of mammalian families. We find that regions of reduced genetic diversity are more abundant in species at a high risk of extinction, discern signals of evolutionary selection at high resolution and provide insights from individual reference genomes. By prioritizing phylogenetic diversity and making data available quickly and without restriction, the Zoonomia Project aims to support biological discovery, medical research and the conservation of biodiversity. 
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  8. null (Ed.)
    Abstract High-quality and complete reference genome assemblies are fundamental for the application of genomics to biology, disease, and biodiversity conservation. However, such assemblies are available for only a few non-microbial species 1–4 . To address this issue, the international Genome 10K (G10K) consortium 5,6 has worked over a five-year period to evaluate and develop cost-effective methods for assembling highly accurate and nearly complete reference genomes. Here we present lessons learned from generating assemblies for 16 species that represent six major vertebrate lineages. We confirm that long-read sequencing technologies are essential for maximizing genome quality, and that unresolved complex repeats and haplotype heterozygosity are major sources of assembly error when not handled correctly. Our assemblies correct substantial errors, add missing sequence in some of the best historical reference genomes, and reveal biological discoveries. These include the identification of many false gene duplications, increases in gene sizes, chromosome rearrangements that are specific to lineages, a repeated independent chromosome breakpoint in bat genomes, and a canonical GC-rich pattern in protein-coding genes and their regulatory regions. Adopting these lessons, we have embarked on the Vertebrate Genomes Project (VGP), an international effort to generate high-quality, complete reference genomes for all of the roughly 70,000 extant vertebrate species and to help to enable a new era of discovery across the life sciences. 
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