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Journal: Genes


Ancient DNA (aDNA) has the ability to inform the evolutionary history of both extant and extinct taxa; however, the use of aDNA in the study of avian evolution is lacking in comparison to other vertebrates, despite birds being one of the most species-rich vertebrate classes. Here, we review the field of “avian ancient DNA” by summarising the past three decades of literature on this topic. Most studies over this time have used avian aDNA to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships and clarify taxonomy based on the sequencing of a few mitochondrial loci, but recent studies are moving toward using a comparative genomics approach to address developmental and functional questions. Applying aDNA analysis with more practical outcomes in mind (such as managing conservation) is another increasingly popular trend among studies that utilise avian aDNA, but the majority of these have yet to influence management policy. We find that while there have been advances in extracting aDNA from a variety of avian substrates including eggshell, feathers, and coprolites, there is a bias in the temporal focus; the majority of the ca. 150 studies reviewed here obtained aDNA from late Holocene (100-1000 yBP) material, with few studies investigating Pleistocene-aged material. In addition, we identify and discuss several other issues within the field that require future attention. With more than one quarter of Holocene bird extinctions occurring in the last several hundred years, it is more important than ever to understand the mechanisms driving the evolution and extinction of bird species through the use of aDNA.

Concepts: DNA, Conservation biology, Evolution, Bird, Evolutionary biology, Phylogenetic tree, Extinction, Dinosaur


In order to characterize the female or male transcriptome of the Pacific abalone and further increase genomic resources, we sequenced the mRNA of full-length complementary DNA (cDNA) libraries derived from pooled tissues of female and male Haliotis discus hannai by employing the Iso-Seq protocol of the PacBio RSII platform. We successfully assembled whole full-length cDNA sequences and constructed a transcriptome database that included isoform information. After clustering, a total of 15,110 and 12,145 genes that coded for proteins were identified in female and male abalones, respectively. A total of 13,057 putative orthologs were retained from each transcriptome in abalones. Overall Gene Ontology terms and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) pathways analyzed in each database showed a similar composition between sexes. In addition, a total of 519 and 391 isoforms were genome-widely identified with at least two isoforms from female and male transcriptome databases. We found that the number of isoforms and their alternatively spliced patterns are variable and sex-dependent. This information represents the first significant contribution to sex-preferential genomic resources of the Pacific abalone. The availability of whole female and male transcriptome database and their isoform information will be useful to improve our understanding of molecular responses and also for the analysis of population dynamics in the Pacific abalone.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Transcription, Molecular biology, RNA, RNA splicing


The giant panda was widely distributed in China and south-eastern Asia during the middle to late Pleistocene, prior to its habitat becoming rapidly reduced in the Holocene. While conservation reserves have been established and population numbers of the giant panda have recently increased, the interpretation of its genetic diversity remains controversial. Previous analyses, surprisingly, have indicated relatively high levels of genetic diversity raising issues concerning the efficiency and usefulness of reintroducing individuals from captive populations. However, due to a lack of DNA data from fossil specimens, it is unknown whether genetic diversity was even higher prior to the most recent population decline. We amplified complete cytb and 12s rRNA, partial 16s rRNA and ND1, and control region sequences from the mitochondrial genomes of two Holocene panda specimens. We estimated genetic diversity and population demography by analyzing the ancient mitochondrial DNA sequences alongside those from modern giant pandas, as well as from other members of the bear family (Ursidae). Phylogenetic analyses show that one of the ancient haplotypes is sister to all sampled modern pandas and the second ancient individual is nested among the modern haplotypes, suggesting that genetic diversity may indeed have been higher earlier during the Holocene. Bayesian skyline plot analysis supports this view and indicates a slight decline in female effective population size starting around 6000 years B.P., followed by a recovery around 2000 years ago. Therefore, while the genetic diversity of the giant panda has been affected by recent habitat contraction, it still harbors substantial genetic diversity. Moreover, while its still low population numbers require continued conservation efforts, there seem to be no immediate threats from the perspective of genetic evolutionary potential.

Concepts: DNA, Demography, Population genetics, Giant Panda, Carnivora, Bear, Ailuropoda, Qinling Panda


The northern sea otter inhabits coastal waters of the northern Pacific Ocean and is the largest member of the Mustelidae family. DNA sequencing methods that utilize microfluidic partitioned and non-partitioned library construction were used to establish the sea otter genome. The final assembly provided 2.426 Gbp of highly contiguous assembled genomic sequences with a scaffold N50 length of over 38 Mbp. We generated transcriptome data derived from a lymphoma to aid in the determination of functional elements. The assembled genome sequence and underlying sequence data are available at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) under the BioProject accession number PRJNA388419.

Concepts: DNA, Human Genome Project, Genome, Sequence, Pacific Ocean, Mustelidae, Sea otter, Otter


Mitochondrial dysfunction is a central event in many pathologies and contributes as well to age-related processes. However, distinguishing between primary mitochondrial dysfunction driving aging and a secondary mitochondrial impairment resulting from other cell alterations remains challenging. Indeed, even though mitochondria undeniably play a crucial role in aging pathways at the cellular and organismal level, the original hypothesis in which mitochondrial dysfunction and production of free radicals represent the main driving force of cell degeneration has been strongly challenged. In this review, we will first describe mitochondrial dysfunctions observed in aged tissue, and how these features have been linked to mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS)-mediated cell damage and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations. We will also discuss the clues that led to consider mitochondria as the starting point in the aging process, and how recent research has showed that the mitochondria aging axis represents instead a more complex and multifactorial signaling pathway. New working hypothesis will be also presented in which mitochondria are considered at the center of a complex web of cell dysfunctions that eventually leads to cell senescence and death.

Concepts: DNA, Oxygen, Bacteria, Death, Senescence, Mitochondrion, Reactive oxygen species, Ageing


Telomeres are tandem repeat DNA sequences present at the ends of each eukaryotic chromosome to stabilize the genome structure integrity. Telomere lengths progressively shorten with each cell division. Inflammation and oxidative stress, which are implicated as major mechanisms underlying cardiovascular diseases, increase the rate of telomere shortening and lead to cellular senescence. In clinical studies, cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and hypertension have been associated with short leukocyte telomere length. In addition, low telomerase activity and short leukocyte telomere length have been observed in atherosclerotic plaque and associated with plaque instability, thus stroke or acute myocardial infarction. The aging myocardium with telomere shortening and accumulation of senescent cells limits the tissue regenerative capacity, contributing to systolic or diastolic heart failure. In addition, patients with ion-channel defects might have genetic imbalance caused by oxidative stress-related accelerated telomere shortening, which may subsequently cause sudden cardiac death. Telomere length can serve as a marker for the biological status of previous cell divisions and DNA damage with inflammation and oxidative stress. It can be integrated into current risk prediction and stratification models for cardiovascular diseases and can be used in precise personalized treatments. In this review, we summarize the current understanding of telomeres and telomerase in the aging process and their association with cardiovascular diseases. In addition, we discuss therapeutic interventions targeting the telomere system in cardiovascular disease treatments.

Concepts: DNA, Senescence, Myocardial infarction, Atherosclerosis, Hypertension, Cell division, Obesity, Telomere


Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most common monogenetic cause of intellectual disability. The cognitive deficits in the mouse model for this disorder, the Fragile X Mental Retardation 1 (Fmr1) knockout (KO) mouse, have been restored by different pharmacological approaches, among those the blockade of cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptor. In this regard, our previous study showed that the CB1 receptor antagonist/inverse agonist rimonabant normalized a number of core features in the Fmr1 knockout mouse. Rimonabant was commercialized at high doses for its anti-obesity properties, and withdrawn from the market on the bases of mood-related adverse effects. In this study we show, by using electrophysiological approaches, that low dosages of rimonabant (0.1 mg/kg) manage to normalize metabotropic glutamate receptor dependent long-term depression (mGluR-LTD). In addition, low doses of rimonabant (from 0.01 mg/kg) equally normalized the cognitive deficit in the mouse model of FXS. These doses of rimonabant were from 30 to 300 times lower than those required to reduce body weight in rodents and to presumably produce adverse effects in humans. Furthermore, NESS0327, a CB1 receptor neutral antagonist, was also effective in preventing the novel object-recognition memory deficit in Fmr1 KO mice. These data further support targeting CB1 receptors as a relevant therapy for FXS.

Concepts: Receptor, Ligand, Receptor antagonist, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Mental retardation, Inverse agonist, Fragile X syndrome, Schild regression


Understanding the phenotypic and molecular mechanisms that contribute to genetic diversity between and within species is fundamental in studying the evolution of species. In particular, identifying the interspecific differences that lead to the reduction or even cessation of gene flow between nascent species is one of the main goals of speciation genetic research. Transposable elements (TEs) are DNA sequences with the ability to move within genomes. TEs are ubiquitous throughout eukaryotic genomes and have been shown to alter regulatory networks, gene expression, and to rearrange genomes as a result of their transposition. However, no systematic effort has evaluated the role of TEs in speciation. We compiled the evidence for TEs as potential causes of reproductive isolation across a diversity of taxa. We find that TEs are often associated with hybrid defects that might preclude the fusion between species, but that the involvement of TEs in other barriers to gene flow different from postzygotic isolation is still relatively unknown. Finally, we list a series of guides and research avenues to disentangle the effects of TEs on the origin of new species.


Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) surveillance is a critical step within risk assessment schemes, as it is the basis for informing global strategies, monitoring the effectiveness of public health interventions, and detecting new trends and emerging threats linked to food. Surveillance of AMR is currently based on the isolation of indicator microorganisms and the phenotypic characterization of clinical, environmental and food strains isolated. However, this approach provides very limited information on the mechanisms driving AMR or on the presence or spread of AMR genes throughout the food chain. Whole-genome sequencing (WGS) of bacterial pathogens has shown potential for epidemiological surveillance, outbreak detection, and infection control. In addition, whole metagenome sequencing (WMS) allows for the culture-independent analysis of complex microbial communities, providing useful information on AMR genes occurrence. Both technologies can assist the tracking of AMR genes and mobile genetic elements, providing the necessary information for the implementation of quantitative risk assessments and allowing for the identification of hotspots and routes of transmission of AMR across the food chain. This review article summarizes the information currently available on the use of WGS and WMS for surveillance of AMR in foodborne pathogenic bacteria and food-related samples and discusses future needs that will have to be considered for the routine implementation of these next-generation sequencing methodologies with this aim. In particular, methodological constraints that impede the use at a global scale of these high-throughput sequencing (HTS) technologies are identified, and the standardization of methods and protocols is suggested as a measure to upgrade HTS-based AMR surveillance schemes.


Aging is a natural phenomenon characterized by progressive decline in tissue and organ function leading to increased risk of disease and mortality. Among diverse factors that contribute to human aging, the mitochondrial dysfunction has emerged as one of the key hallmarks of aging process and is linked to the development of numerous age-related pathologies including metabolic syndrome, neurodegenerative disorders, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Mitochondria are central in the regulation of energy and metabolic homeostasis, and harbor a complex quality control system that limits mitochondrial damage to ensure mitochondrial integrity and function. The intricate regulatory network that balances the generation of new and removal of damaged mitochondria forms the basis of aging and longevity. Here, I will review our current understanding on how mitochondrial functional decline contributes to aging, including the role of somatic mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations, reactive oxygen species (ROS), mitochondrial dynamics and quality control pathways. I will further discuss the emerging evidence on how dysregulated mitochondrial dynamics, mitochondrial biogenesis and turnover mechanisms contribute to the pathogenesis of age-related disorders. Strategies aimed to enhance mitochondrial function by targeting mitochondrial dynamics, quality control, and mitohormesis pathways might promote healthy aging, protect against age-related diseases, and mediate longevity.

Concepts: DNA, Oxygen, Metabolism, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Oxidative phosphorylation, Reactive oxygen species, Electron transport chain