Phylogenetic Analyses of Glycosyl Hydrolase Family 6 Genes in Tunicates: Possible Horizontal Transfer.
ABSTRACT: Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is the movement of genetic material between different species. Although HGT is less frequent in eukaryotes than in bacteria, several instances of HGT have apparently shaped animal evolution. One well-known example is the tunicate cellulose synthase gene, CesA, in which a gene, probably transferred from bacteria, greatly impacted tunicate evolution. A Glycosyl Hydrolase Family 6 (GH6) hydrolase-like domain exists at the C-terminus of tunicate CesA, but not in cellulose synthases of other organisms. The recent discovery of another GH6 hydrolase-like gene (GH6-1) in tunicate genomes further raises the question of how tunicates acquired GH6. To examine the probable origin of these genes, we analyzed the phylogenetic relationship of GH6 proteins in tunicates and other organisms. Our analyses show that tunicate GH6s, the GH6-1 gene, and the GH6 part of the CesA gene, form two independent, monophyletic gene groups. We also compared their sequence signatures and exon splice sites. All tunicate species examined have shared splice sites in GH6-containing genes, implying ancient intron acquisitions. It is likely that the tunicate CesA and GH6-1 genes existed in the common ancestor of all extant tunicates.
Project description:Tunicates or urochordates-comprising ascidians, larvaceans, and salps-are the only metazoans that can synthesize cellulose, a biological function usually associated with bacteria and plants but not animals. Tunicate cellulose or tunicine is a major component of the outer acellular coverage (tunic) of the entire body of these organisms. Previous studies have suggested that the prokaryotic cellulose synthase gene (CesA) was horizontally transferred into the genome of a tunicate ancestor. However, no convenient tools have been devised to determine whether only tunicates harbor CesA. ORTHOSCOPE is a recently developed tool used to identify orthologous genes and to examine the phylogenic relationship of molecules within major metazoan taxa. The present analysis with this tool revealed the presence of CesA orthologs in all sequenced tunicate genomes but an absence in other metazoan genomes. This supports an evolutionary origin of animal cellulose and provides insights into the evolution of this animal taxon.
Project description:Tunicates are the only animals that perform cellulose biosynthesis. The tunicate gene for cellulose synthase, Ci-CesA, was likely acquired by horizontal transfer from bacteria and was a key innovation in the evolution of tunicates. Transposon-based mutagenesis in an ascidian, Ciona intestinalis, has generated a mutant, swimming juvenile (sj). Ci-CesA is the gene responsible for the sj mutant, in which a drastic reduction in cellulose was observed in the tunic. Furthermore, during metamorphosis, which in ascidians convert the vertebrate-like larva into a sessile filter feeder, sj showed abnormalities in the order of metamorphic events. In normal larvae, the metamorphic events in the trunk region are initiated after tail resorption. In contrast, sj mutant larvae initiated the metamorphic events in the trunk without tail resorption. Thus, sj larvae show a "swimming juvenile" phenotype, the juvenile-like trunk structure with a complete tail and the ability to swim. It is likely that ascidian cellulose synthase is required for the coordination of the metamorphic events in the trunk and tail in addition to cellulose biosynthesis.
Project description:In order for sustainable nanomaterials such as cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) to be utilized in industrial applications, a large-scale production capacity for CNCs must exist. Currently the only CNCs available commercially in kilogram scale are obtained from wood pulp (W-CNCs). Scaling the production capacity of W-CNCs isolation has led to their use in broader applications and captured the interest of researchers, industries and governments alike. Another source of CNCs with potential for commercial scale production are tunicates, a species of marine animal. Tunicate derived CNCs (T-CNCs) are a high aspect ratio CNC, which can complement commercially available W-CNCs in the growing global CNC market. Herein we report the isolation and characterization of T-CNCs from the tunicate Styela clava, an invasive species currently causing significant harm to local aquaculture communities. The reported procedure utilizes scalable CNC processing techniques and is based on our experiences from laboratory scale T-CNC isolation and pilot scale W-CNC isolation. To our best knowledge, this study represents the largest scale where T-CNCs have been isolated from any tunicate species, under any reaction conditions. Demonstrating a significant step towards commercial scale isolation of T-CNCs, and offering a potential solution to the numerous challenges which invasive tunicates pose to global aquaculture communities.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Tunicates are the closest relatives of vertebrates and are widely used as models to study the evolutionary developmental biology of chordates. Their phylogeny, however, remains poorly understood, and to date, only the 18S rRNA nuclear gene and mitogenomes have been used to delineate the major groups of tunicates. To resolve their evolutionary relationships and provide a first estimate of their divergence times, we used a transcriptomic approach to build a phylogenomic dataset including all major tunicate lineages, consisting of 258 evolutionarily conserved orthologous genes from representative species. RESULTS:Phylogenetic analyses using site-heterogeneous CAT mixture models of amino acid sequence evolution resulted in a strongly supported tree topology resolving the relationships among four major tunicate clades: (1) Appendicularia, (2) Thaliacea + Phlebobranchia + Aplousobranchia, (3) Molgulidae, and (4) Styelidae + Pyuridae. Notably, the morphologically derived Thaliacea are confirmed as the sister group of the clade uniting Phlebobranchia + Aplousobranchia within which the precise position of the model ascidian genus Ciona remains uncertain. Relaxed molecular clock analyses accommodating the accelerated evolutionary rate of tunicates reveal ancient diversification (~?450-350 million years ago) among the major groups and allow one to compare their evolutionary age with respect to the major vertebrate model lineages. CONCLUSIONS:Our study represents the most comprehensive phylogenomic dataset for the main tunicate lineages. It offers a reference phylogenetic framework and first tentative timescale for tunicates, allowing a direct comparison with vertebrate model species in comparative genomics and evolutionary developmental biology studies.
Project description:The composition and abundance of the major zooplankton taxon tunicates were analyzed in a multi-year study and correlated with environmental parameters in the area around the hydrothermal vent field of Kueishantao (Turtle Island) in Taiwan. This provided the first study about tunicates above hydrothermal vents worldwide. We chose seven different stations for sample collection. Sampling was carried out in September of 2009, 2014, and 2015 (autumn) and June 2015 (summer). A total of ten tunicate species were identified belonging to the classes Appendicularia and Thaliacea during the above periods throughout the area. Considering the limited diversity of these organisms worldwide (40 species are identified in each class), we affirm that Kueishantao, a shallow water hydrothermal vent field, with 10 species provided an unexpected biodiversity hot spot for pelagic tunicates. The sampling of the organisms in the surface waters provided higher abundances compared to oblique tows. Comparing results from three autumn seasons we found that temperature values correlated with changes in tunicate abundances. We discovered strong seasonal changes in pelagic tunicate abundances over the entire survey period, with the highest abundances observed during autumn.
Project description:Background: Ascidians, a tunicate class, use a mitochondrial genetic code that is distinct from vertebrates and other invertebrates. Though it has been used to translate the coding sequences from other tunicate species on a case-by-case basis, it is has not been investigated whether this can be done systematically. This is an important because a) some tunicate mitochondrial sequences are currently translated with the invertebrate code by repositories such as NCBI GenBank, and b) uncertainties about the genetic code to use can complicate or introduce errors in phylogenetic studies based on translated mitochondrial protein sequences. Methods: We collected publicly available nucleotide sequences for non-ascidian tunicates including appendicularians such as Oikopleura dioica, translated them using the ascidian mitochondrial code, and built multiple sequence alignments covering all tunicate classes. Results: All tunicates studied here appear to translate AGR codons to glycine instead of serine (invertebrates) or as a stop codon (vertebrates), as initially described in ascidians. Among Oikopleuridae, we suggest further possible changes in the use of the ATA (Ile ? Met) and TGA (Trp ? Arg) codons. Conclusions: We recommend using the ascidian mitochondrial code in automatic translation pipelines of mitochondrial sequences for all tunicates. Further investigation is required for additional species-specific differences.
Project description:The horizontal transfer of genes between distantly related organisms is undoubtedly a major factor in the evolution of novel traits. Because genes are functionless without expression, horizontally transferred genes must acquire appropriate transcriptional regulations in their recipient organisms, although the evolutionary mechanism is not known well. The defining characteristic of tunicates is the presence of a cellulose containing tunic covering the adult and larval body surface. Cellulose synthase was acquired by horizontal gene transfer from Actinobacteria. We found that acquisition of the binding site of AP-2 transcription factor was essential for tunicate cellulose synthase to gain epidermal-specific expression. Actinobacteria have very GC-rich genomes, regions of which are capable of inducing specific expression in the tunicate epidermis as the AP-2 binds to a GC-rich region. Therefore, the actinobacterial cellulose synthase could have been potentiated to evolve its new function in the ancestor of tunicates with a higher probability than the evolution depending solely on a spontaneous event.
Project description:The larval nervous system of the solitary tunicate Ciona is a simple model for the study of chordate neurodevelopment. The development and connectivity of the Ciona motor ganglion have been studied in fine detail, but how this important structure develops in other tunicates is not well known.By comparing gene expression patterns in the developing MG of the distantly related tunicate Molgula occidentalis, we found that its patterning is highly conserved compared to the Ciona MG. MG neuronal subtypes in Molgula were specified in the exact same positions as in Ciona, though the timing of subtype-specific gene expression onset was slightly shifted to begin earlier, relative to mitotic exit and differentiation. In transgenic Molgula embryos electroporated with Dmbx reporter plasmids, we were also able to characterize the morphology of the lone pair of descending decussating neurons (ddNs) in Molgula, revealing the same unique contralateral projection seen in Ciona ddNs and their putative vertebrate homologs the Mauthner cells. Although Dmbx expression labels the ddNs in both species, cross-species transgenic assays revealed significant changes to the regulatory logic underlying Dmbx transcription. We found that Dmbx cis-regulatory DNAs from Ciona can drive highly specific reporter gene expression in Molgula ddNs, but Molgula sequences are not active in Ciona ddNs.This acute divergence in the molecular mechanisms that underlie otherwise functionally conserved cis-regulatory DNAs supports the recently proposed idea that the extreme genetic plasticity observed in tunicates may be attributed to the extreme rigidity of the spatial organization of their embryonic cell lineages.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Tunicates have been recently revealed to be the closest living relatives of vertebrates. Yet, with more than 2500 described species, details of their evolutionary history are still obscure. From a molecular point of view, tunicate phylogenetic relationships have been mostly studied based on analyses of 18S rRNA sequences, which indicate several major clades at odds with the traditional class-level arrangements. Nonetheless, substantial uncertainty remains about the phylogenetic relationships and taxonomic status of key groups such as the Aplousobranchia, Appendicularia, and Thaliacea. RESULTS: Thirty new complete 18S rRNA sequences were acquired from previously unsampled tunicate species, with special focus on groups presenting high evolutionary rate. The updated 18S rRNA dataset has been aligned with respect to the constraint on homology imposed by the rRNA secondary structure. A probabilistic framework of phylogenetic reconstruction was adopted to accommodate the particular evolutionary dynamics of this ribosomal marker. Detailed Bayesian analyses were conducted under the non-parametric CAT mixture model accounting for site-specific heterogeneity of the evolutionary process, and under RNA-specific doublet models accommodating the occurrence of compensatory substitutions in stem regions. Our results support the division of tunicates into three major clades: 1) Phlebobranchia + Thaliacea + Aplousobranchia, 2) Appendicularia, and 3) Stolidobranchia, but the position of Appendicularia could not be firmly resolved. Our study additionally reveals that most Aplousobranchia evolve at extremely high rates involving changes in secondary structure of their 18S rRNA, with the exception of the family Clavelinidae, which appears to be slowly evolving. This extreme rate heterogeneity precluded resolving with certainty the exact phylogenetic placement of Aplousobranchia. Finally, the best fitting secondary-structure and CAT-mixture models suggest a sister-group relationship between Salpida and Pyrosomatida within Thaliacea. CONCLUSION: An updated phylogenetic framework for tunicates is provided based on phylogenetic analyses using the most realistic evolutionary models currently available for ribosomal molecules and an unprecedented taxonomic sampling. Detailed analyses of the 18S rRNA gene allowed a clear definition of the major tunicate groups and revealed contrasting evolutionary dynamics among major lineages. The resolving power of this gene nevertheless appears limited within the clades composed of Phlebobranchia + Thaliacea + Aplousobranchia and Pyuridae + Styelidae, which were delineated as spots of low resolution. These limitations underline the need to develop new nuclear markers in order to further resolve the phylogeny of this keystone group in chordate evolution.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Tunicates represent a key metazoan group as the sister-group of vertebrates within chordates. The six complete mitochondrial genomes available so far for tunicates have revealed distinctive features. Extensive gene rearrangements and particularly high evolutionary rates have been evidenced with regard to other chordates. This peculiar evolutionary dynamics has hampered the reconstruction of tunicate phylogenetic relationships within chordates based on mitogenomic data. RESULTS: In order to further understand the atypical evolutionary dynamics of the mitochondrial genome of tunicates, we determined the complete sequence of the solitary ascidian Herdmania momus. This genome from a stolidobranch ascidian presents the typical tunicate gene content with 13 protein-coding genes, 2 rRNAs and 24 tRNAs which are all encoded on the same strand. However, it also presents a novel gene arrangement, highlighting the extreme plasticity of gene order observed in tunicate mitochondrial genomes. Probabilistic phylogenetic inferences were conducted on the concatenation of the 13 mitochondrial protein-coding genes from representatives of major metazoan phyla. We show that whereas standard homogeneous amino acid models support an artefactual sister position of tunicates relative to all other bilaterians, the CAT and CAT+BP site- and time-heterogeneous mixture models place tunicates as the sister-group of vertebrates within monophyletic chordates. Moreover, the reference phylogeny indicates that tunicate mitochondrial genomes have experienced a drastic acceleration in their evolutionary rate that equally affects protein-coding and ribosomal-RNA genes. CONCLUSION: This is the first mitogenomic study supporting the new chordate phylogeny revealed by recent phylogenomic analyses. It illustrates the beneficial effects of an increased taxon sampling coupled with the use of more realistic amino acid substitution models for the reconstruction of animal phylogeny.