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Small Steps and Grand Leaps: A Study of Micro- and Macroevolutionary Processes

by Tzika, Athanasia C.

Abstract (Summary)
Evolutionary biology is not a specialty, like genetics or development - it is an explanation of what is investigated by all biological specialties. Thus, the goal of this dissertation was to study both micro- and macroevolutionary processes in a multi-disciplinary framework. Population genetics, conservation, and phylogeny inference. The Jamaican boa (Epicrates subflavus) is an endemic species, whose natural populations greatly and constantly declined since the late 19th century, mainly due to predation by introduced species, human persecution, and habitat destruction. Using species-specific nuclear microsatellite loci and mitochondrial sequences, we investigated the population structure of this endangered reptile. All analyses pinpointed to an Eastern versus (Western+Central) pattern of differentiation in agreement with geological data and patterns of differentiation uncovered in other vertebrate and invertebrate Jamaican species. The same molecular markers were employed on 80 Jamaican boas of the European captive breeding program. This approach allowed us to (i) clarify all ambiguities in the studbook, (ii) correct parental allocation errors and (iii) assess the genetic diversity and the level of inbreeding of the current captive population. These results provide important insights for guiding the development of proper ex-situ and in-situ species survival and habitat management plans for this vulnerable snake. In the same framework of classical evolutionary genetics, we performed preliminary analyses of cytochrome b-like sequences in representatives of all cetacean families (but one), and revealed the presence of at least four nuclear mitochondrial pseudogenes that were independently inserted into the nuclear genome. Evo-Devo. The emergence of Evolutionary Developmental biology has caused a partial shift in the criteria for the selection of model species. Thus far, the main criterion was the relevance of a species for understanding human biology, whereas in the frame of the new discipline, it is the understanding of the generative mechanisms underlying biological diversity that is put forward. We discussed a few criteria and limitations of major relevance to the choice of model species for Evo-Devo studies, and applied a pragmatic approach to identify possible model species within Amniotes. Moreover, we developed MANTiS, an application pipeline that aims at integrating genomic, functional and expression data with evolutionary concepts, thus constituting the missing link between multi-species genome comparisons and functional analyses. Using MANTiS, we proceeded in the analysis of 35 metazoan full genomes for identifying all lineage-specific gene gains and losses. These results were combined with functional and expression analyses, and we demonstrated the much higher performance of MANTiS against popular databases of ortholog clusters (InParanoid, OrthoMCL, RoundUp). Finally, preliminary results of our attempt to adapt the new revolutionary technology of DNA sequencing in microfabricated high-density picoliter reactors (developed by 454/Roche) to the ultra-fast sequencing of brain full transcriptomes in multiple reptilian species are highly promising. As an example, the Crocodylus sample generated more than 72 Mbases (per run), which were successfully assembled in approximately 31,000 contigs. One third of the latter could be matched to known sequences in the transcriptome of related species. After fine-tuning of the in silico analyses, and incorporation of genomic sequence data, we expect our approach to provide important insights not only in the evolution of central nervous system novelties in vertebrates, but in transcriptomes in general as the brain transcriptome is one of the most complex among all organs.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Pays, Etienne; Vanhamme, Luc; Marini, Anna Maria; Urbain, Jacques; Tiedemann, Ralph; Milinkovitch, Michel C.

School:Université libre de Bruxelles

School Location:Belgium

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:evolutionary developmental biology comparative genomics conservation phylogeny population genetics

ISBN:

Date of Publication:03/14/2008

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