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  1. Relationships among laurasiatherian clades represent one of the most highly disputed topics in mammalian phylogeny. In this study, we attempt to disentangle laurasiatherian interordinal relationships using two independent genome-level approaches: (1) quantifying retrotransposon presence/absence patterns, and (2) comparisons of exon datasets at the levels of nucleotides and amino acids. The two approaches revealed contradictory phylogenetic signals, possibly due to a high level of ancestral incomplete lineage sorting. The positions of Eulipotyphla and Chiroptera as the first and second earliest divergences were consistent across the approaches. However, the phylogenetic relationships of Perissodactyla, Cetartiodactyla, and Ferae, were contradictory. While retrotransposon insertion analyses suggest a clade with Cetartiodactyla and Ferae, the exon dataset favoured Cetartiodactyla and Perissodactyla. Future analyses of hitherto unsampled laurasiatherian lineages and synergistic analyses of retrotransposon insertions, exon and conserved intron/intergenic sequences might unravel the conflicting patterns of relationships in this major mammalian clade. 
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  2. null (Ed.)
    Comprising more than 1,400 species, bats possess adaptations unique among mammals including powered flight, unexpected longevity, and extraordinary immunity. Some of the molecular mechanisms underlying these unique adaptations includes DNA repair, metabolism and immunity. However, analyses have been limited to a few divergent lineages, reducing the scope of inferences on gene family evolution across the Order Chiroptera. We conducted an exhaustive comparative genomic study of 37 bat species, one generated in this study, encompassing a large number of lineages, with a particular emphasis on multi-gene family evolution across immune and metabolic genes. In agreement with previous analyses, we found lineage-specific expansions of the APOBEC3 and MHC-I gene families, and loss of the proinflammatory PYHIN gene family. We inferred more than 1,000 gene losses unique to bats, including genes involved in the regulation of inflammasome pathways such as epithelial defense receptors, the natural killer gene complex and the interferon-gamma induced pathway. Gene set enrichment analyses revealed genes lost in bats are involved in defense response against pathogen-associated molecular patterns and damage-associated molecular patterns. Gene family evolution and selection analyses indicate bats have evolved fundamental functional differences compared to other mammals in both innate and adaptive immune system, with the potential to enhance anti-viral immune response while dampening inflammatory signaling. In addition, metabolic genes have experienced repeated expansions related to convergent shifts to plant-based diets. Our analyses support the hypothesis that, in tandem with flight, ancestral bats had evolved a unique set of immune adaptations whose functional implications remain to be explored. 
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  3. 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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  4. null (Ed.)
  5. 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
  6. 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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  7. 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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