June 1, 2021  |  

SMRT Sequencing of the alala genome

Single Molecule Real-Time (SMRT) Sequencing was used to generate long reads for whole genome shotgun sequencing of the genome of the`alala (Hawaiian crow). The ‘alala is endemic to Hawaii, and the only surviving lineage of the crow family, Corvidae, in the Hawaiian Islands. The population declined to less than 20 individuals in the 1990s, and today this charismatic species is extinct in the wild. Currently existing in only two captive breeding facilities, reintroduction of the ‘alala is scheduled to begin in the Fall of 2016. Reintroduction efforts will be assisted by information from the ‘alala genome generated and assembled by SMRT Technology, which will allow detailed analysis of genes associated with immunity, behavior, and learning. Using SMRT Sequencing, we present here best practices for achieving long reads for whole genome shotgun sequencing for complex plant and animal genomes such as the ‘alala genome. With recent advances in SMRTbell library preparation, P6-C4 chemistry and 6-hour movies, the number of useable bases now exceeds 1 Gb per SMRT Cell. Read lengths averaging 10 – 15 kb can be routinely achieved, with the longest reads approaching 70 kb. Furthermore, > 25% of useable bases are in reads greater than 30 kb, advantageous for generating contiguous draft assemblies of contig N50 up to 5 Mb. De novo assemblies of large genomes are now more tractable using SMRT Sequencing as the standalone technology. We also present guidelines for planning out projects for the de novo assembly of large genomes.


June 1, 2021  |  

De novo PacBio long-read assembled avian genomes correct and add to genes important in neuroscience and conservation research

To test the impact of high-quality genome assemblies on biological research, we applied PacBio long-read sequencing in conjunction with the new, diploid-aware FALCON-Unzip assembler to a number of bird species. These included: the zebra finch, for which a consortium-generated, Sanger-based reference exists, to determine how the FALCON-Unzip assembly would compare to the current best references available; Anna’s hummingbird genome, which had been assembled with short-read sequencing methods as part of the Avian Phylogenomics phase I initiative; and two critically endangered bird species (kakapo and ‘alala) of high importance for conservations efforts, whose genomes had not previously been sequenced and assembled.


June 1, 2021  |  

From RNA to full-length transcripts: The PacBio Iso-Seq method for transcriptome analysis and genome annotation

A single gene may encode a surprising number of proteins, each with a distinct biological function. This is especially true in complex eukaryotes. Short- read RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) works by physically shearing transcript isoforms into smaller pieces and bioinformatically reassembling them, leaving opportunity for misassembly or incomplete capture of the full diversity of isoforms from genes of interest. The PacBio Isoform Sequencing (Iso-Seq™) method employs long reads to sequence transcript isoforms from the 5’ end to their poly-A tails, eliminating the need for transcript reconstruction and inference. These long reads result in complete, unambiguous information about alternatively spliced exons, transcriptional start sites, and poly- adenylation sites. This allows for the characterization of the full complement of isoforms within targeted genes, or across an entire transcriptome. Here we present improved genome annotations for two avian models of vocal learning, Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna) and zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), using the Iso-Seq method. We present graphical user interface and command line analysis workflows for the data sets. From brain total RNA, we characterize more than 15,000 isoforms in each species, 9% and 5% of which were previously unannotated in hummingbird and zebra finch, respectively. We highlight one example where capturing full-length transcripts identifies additional exons and UTRs.


April 21, 2020  |  

SMRT long reads and Direct Label and Stain optical maps allow the generation of a high-quality genome assembly for the European barn swallow (Hirundo rustica rustica).

The barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) is a migratory bird that has been the focus of a large number of ecological, behavioral, and genetic studies. To facilitate further population genetics and genomic studies, we present a reference genome assembly for the European subspecies (H. r. rustica).As part of the Genome10K effort on generating high-quality vertebrate genomes (Vertebrate Genomes Project), we have assembled a highly contiguous genome assembly using single molecule real-time (SMRT) DNA sequencing and several Bionano optical map technologies. We compared and integrated optical maps derived from both the Nick, Label, Repair, and Stain technology and from the Direct Label and Stain (DLS) technology. As proposed by Bionano, DLS more than doubled the scaffold N50 with respect to the nickase. The dual enzyme hybrid scaffold led to a further marginal increase in scaffold N50 and an overall increase of confidence in the scaffolds. After removal of haplotigs, the final assembly is approximately 1.21 Gbp in size, with a scaffold N50 value of more than 25.95 Mbp.This high-quality genome assembly represents a valuable resource for future studies of population genetics and genomics in the barn swallow and for studies concerning the evolution of avian genomes. It also represents one of the very first genomes assembled by combining SMRT long-read sequencing with the new Bionano DLS technology for scaffolding. The quality of this assembly demonstrates the potential of this methodology to substantially increase the contiguity of genome assemblies.


April 21, 2020  |  

Urotensin-related gene transcripts mark developmental emergence of the male forebrain vocal control system in songbirds.

Songbirds communicate through learned vocalizations, using a forebrain circuit with convergent similarity to vocal-control circuitry in humans. This circuit is incomplete in female zebra finches, hence only males sing. We show that the UTS2B gene, encoding Urotensin-Related Peptide (URP), is uniquely expressed in a key pre-motor vocal nucleus (HVC), and specifically marks the neurons that form a male-specific projection that encodes timing features of learned song. UTS2B-expressing cells appear early in males, prior to projection formation, but are not observed in the female nucleus. We find no expression evidence for canonical receptors within the vocal circuit, suggesting either signalling to other brain regions via diffusion or transduction through other receptor systems. Urotensins have not previously been implicated in vocal control, but we find an annotation in Allen Human Brain Atlas of increased UTS2B expression within portions of human inferior frontal cortex implicated in human speech and singing. Thus UTS2B (URP) is a novel neural marker that may have conserved functions for vocal communication.


September 22, 2019  |  

Long-read sequencing of chicken transcripts and identification of new transcript isoforms.

The chicken has long served as an important model organism in many fields, and continues to aid our understanding of animal development. Functional genomics studies aimed at probing the mechanisms that regulate development require high-quality genomes and transcript annotations. The quality of these resources has improved dramatically over the last several years, but many isoforms and genes have yet to be identified. We hope to contribute to the process of improving these resources with the data presented here: a set of long cDNA sequencing reads, and a curated set of new genes and transcript isoforms not currently represented in the most up-to-date genome annotation currently available to the community of researchers who rely on the chicken genome.


September 22, 2019  |  

Single molecule, full-length transcript sequencing provides insight into the extreme metabolism of ruby-throated hummingbird Archilochus colubris

Hummingbirds oxidize ingested nectar sugars directly to fuel foraging but cannot sustain this fuel use during fasting periods, such as during the night or during long-distance migratory flights. Instead, fasting hummingbirds switch to oxidizing stored lipids, derived from ingested sugars. The hummingbird liver plays a key role in moderating energy homeostasis and this remarkable capacity for fuel switching. Additionally, liver is the principle location of de novo lipogenesis, which can occur at exceptionally high rates, such as during premigratory fattening. Yet understanding how this tissue and whole organism moderates energy turnover is hampered by a lack of information regarding how relevant enzymes differ in sequence, expression, and regulation. We generated a de novo transcriptome of the hummingbird liver using PacBio full-length cDNA sequencing (Iso-Seq), yielding a total of 8.6Gb of sequencing data, or 2.6M reads from 4 different size fractions. We analyzed data using the SMRTAnalysis v3.1 Iso-Seq pipeline, then clustered isoforms into gene families to generate de novo gene contigs using Cogent. We performed orthology analysis to identify closely related sequences between our transcriptome and other avian and human gene sets. Finally, we closely examined homology of critical lipid metabolism genes between our transcriptome data and avian and human genomes. We confirmed high levels of sequence divergence within hummingbird lipogenic enzymes, suggesting a high probability of adaptive divergent function in the hepatic lipogenic pathways. Our results leverage cutting-edge technology and a novel bioinformatics pipeline to provide a first direct look at the transcriptome of this incredible organism.


September 22, 2019  |  

Avian genomics lends insights into endocrine function in birds.

The genomics era has brought along the completed sequencing of a large number of bird genomes that cover a broad range of the avian phylogenetic tree (>30 orders), leading to major novel insights into avian biology and evolution. Among recent findings, the discovery that birds lack a large number of protein coding genes that are organized in highly conserved syntenic clusters in other vertebrates is very intriguing, given the physiological importance of many of these genes. A considerable number of them play prominent endocrine roles, suggesting that birds evolved compensatory genetic or physiological mechanisms that allowed them to survive and thrive in spite of these losses. While further studies are needed to establish the exact extent of avian gene losses, these findings point to birds as potentially highly relevant model organisms for exploring the genetic basis and possible therapeutic approaches for a wide range of endocrine functions and disorders. Copyright © 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


September 22, 2019  |  

Androgen and estrogen sensitivity of bird song: a comparative view on gene regulatory levels.

Singing of songbirds is sensitive to testosterone and its androgenic and estrogenic metabolites in a species-specific way. The hormonal effects on song pattern are likely mediated by androgen receptors (AR) and estrogen receptor alpha (ERa), ligand activated transcription factors that are expressed in neurons of various areas of the songbirds’ vocal control circuit. The distribution of AR in this circuit is rather similar between species while that of ERa is species variant and concerns a key vocal control area, the HVC (proper name). We discuss the regulation of the expression of the cognate AR and ERa and putative splice variants. In particular, we suggest that transcription factor binding sites in the promoter of these receptors differ between bird species. Further, we suggest that AR- and ERa-dependent gene regulation in vocal areas differs between species due to species-specific DNA binding sites of putative target genes that are required for the transcriptional activity of the receptors. We suggest that species differences in the distribution of AR and ERa in vocal areas and in the genomic sensitivity to these receptors contribute to species-specific hormonal regulation of the song.


September 22, 2019  |  

Discovery of the first germline-restricted gene by subtractive transcriptomic analysis in the zebra finch, Taeniopygia guttata.

Developmentally programmed genome rearrangements are rare in vertebrates, but have been reported in scattered lineages including the bandicoot, hagfish, lamprey, and zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) [1]. In the finch, a well-studied animal model for neuroendocrinology and vocal learning [2], one such programmed genome rearrangement involves a germline-restricted chromosome, or GRC, which is found in germlines of both sexes but eliminated from mature sperm [3, 4]. Transmitted only through the oocyte, it displays uniparental female-driven inheritance, and early in embryonic development is apparently eliminated from all somatic tissue in both sexes [3, 4]. The GRC comprises the longest finch chromosome at over 120 million base pairs [3], and previously the only known GRC-derived sequence was repetitive and non-coding [5]. Because the zebra finch genome project was sourced from male muscle (somatic) tissue [6], the remaining genomic sequence and protein-coding content of the GRC remain unknown. Here we report the first protein-coding gene from the GRC: a member of the a-soluble N-ethylmaleimide sensitive fusion protein (NSF) attachment protein (a-SNAP) family hitherto missing from zebra finch gene annotations. In addition to the GRC-encoded a-SNAP, we find an additional paralogous a-SNAP residing in the somatic genome (a somatolog)-making the zebra finch the first example in which a-SNAP is not a single-copy gene. We show divergent, sex-biased expression for the paralogs and also that positive selection is detectable across the bird a-SNAP lineage, including the GRC-encoded a-SNAP. This study presents the identification and evolutionary characterization of the first protein-coding GRC gene in any organism. Copyright © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


September 22, 2019  |  

Whole genome and transcriptome maps of the entirely black native Korean chicken breed Yeonsan Ogye.

Yeonsan Ogye (YO), an indigenous Korean chicken breed (Gallus gallus domesticus), has entirely black external features and internal organs. In this study, the draft genome of YO was assembled using a hybrid de novo assembly method that takes advantage of high-depth Illumina short reads (376.6X) and low-depth Pacific Biosciences (PacBio) long reads (9.7X).The contig and scaffold NG50s of the hybrid de novo assembly were 362.3 Kbp and 16.8 Mbp, respectively. The completeness (97.6%) of the draft genome (Ogye_1.1) was evaluated with single-copy orthologous genes using Benchmarking Universal Single-Copy Orthologs and found to be comparable to the current chicken reference genome (galGal5; 97.4%; contigs were assembled with high-depth PacBio long reads (50X) and scaffolded with short reads) and superior to other avian genomes (92%-93%; assembled with short read-only or hybrid methods). Compared to galGal4 and galGal5, the draft genome included 551 structural variations including the fibromelanosis (FM) locus duplication, related to hyperpigmentation. To comprehensively reconstruct transcriptome maps, RNA sequencing and reduced representation bisulfite sequencing data were analyzed from 20 tissues, including 4 black tissues (skin, shank, comb, and fascia). The maps included 15,766 protein-coding and 6,900 long noncoding RNA genes, many of which were tissue-specifically expressed and displayed tissue-specific DNA methylation patterns in the promoter regions.We expect that the resulting genome sequence and transcriptome maps will be valuable resources for studying domestic chicken breeds, including black-skinned chickens, as well as for understanding genomic differences between breeds and the evolution of hyperpigmented chickens and functional elements related to hyperpigmentation.


September 22, 2019  |  

Growth factor gene IGF1 is associated with bill size in the black-bellied seedcracker Pyrenestes ostrinus.

Pyrenestes finches are unique among birds in showing a non-sex-determined polymorphism in bill size and are considered a textbook example of disruptive selection. Morphs breed randomly with respect to bill size, and differ in diet and feeding performance relative to seed hardness. Previous breeding experiments are consistent with the polymorphism being controlled by a single genetic factor. Here, we use genome-wide pooled sequencing to explore the underlying genetic basis of bill morphology and identify a single candidate region. Targeted resequencing reveals extensive linkage disequilibrium across a 300?Kb region containing the insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) gene, with a single 5-million-year-old haplotype associating with phenotypic dominance of the large-billed morph. We find no genetic similarities controlling bill size in the well-studied Darwin’s finches (Geospiza). Our results show how a single genetic factor may control bill size and provide a foundation for future studies to examine this phenomenon within and among avian species.


July 19, 2019  |  

Microsatellite marker discovery using single molecule real-time circular consensus sequencing on the Pacific Biosciences RS.

Microsatellite sequences are important markers for population genetics studies. In the past, the development of adequate microsatellite primers has been cumbersome. However with the advent of next-generation sequencing technologies, marker identification in genomes of non-model species has been greatly simplified. Here we describe microsatellite discovery on a Pacific Biosciences single molecule real-time sequencer. For the Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), we identified 316 microsatellite loci in a single genome shotgun sequencing experiment. We found that the capability of handling large insert sizes and high quality circular consensus sequences provides an advantage over short read technologies for primer design. Combined with a straightforward amplification-free library preparation, PacBio sequencing is an economically viable alternative for microsatellite discovery and subsequent PCR primer design.


July 19, 2019  |  

A supergene determines highly divergent male reproductive morphs in the ruff.

Three strikingly different alternative male mating morphs (aggressive ‘independents’, semicooperative ‘satellites’ and female-mimic ‘faeders’) coexist as a balanced polymorphism in the ruff, Philomachus pugnax, a lek-breeding wading bird. Major differences in body size, ornamentation, and aggressive and mating behaviors are inherited as an autosomal polymorphism. We show that development into satellites and faeders is determined by a supergene consisting of divergent alternative, dominant and non-recombining haplotypes of an inversion on chromosome 11, which contains 125 predicted genes. Independents are homozygous for the ancestral sequence. One breakpoint of the inversion disrupts the essential CENP-N gene (encoding centromere protein N), and pedigree analysis confirms the lethality of homozygosity for the inversion. We describe new differences in behavior, testis size and steroid metabolism among morphs and identify polymorphic genes within the inversion that are likely to contribute to the differences among morphs in reproductive traits.


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