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 species1-4. To address this issue, the international Genome 10K (G10K) consortium5,6 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 Our assemblies correct substantial errors, add missing sequence in some of the best historical reference genomes, and reveal biological discoveries.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.
Phylogenetic comparisons of the different mammalian genetic transmission elements (mtDNA, X-, Y-, and autosomal DNA) is a powerful approach for understanding the process of speciation in nature. Through such comparisons the unique inheritance pathways of each genetic element and gender-biased processes can link genomic structure to the evolutionary process, especially among lineages which have recently diversified, in which genetic isolation may be incomplete. Bulldog bats of the genus Noctilio are an exemplar lineage, being a young clade, widely distributed, and exhibiting unique feeding ecologies. In addition, currently recognized species are paraphyletic with respect to the mtDNA gene tree and contain morphologically identifiable clades that exhibit mtDNA divergences as great as among many species. To test taxonomic hypotheses and understand the contribution of hybridization to the extant distribution of genetic diversity in Noctilio, we used phylogenetic, coalescent stochastic modeling, and divergence time estimates using sequence data from cytochrome-b, cytochrome c oxidase-I, zinc finger Y, and zinc finger X, as well as evolutionary reconstructions based on amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs) data. No evidence of ongoing hybridization between the two currently recognized species was identified. However, signatures of an ancient mtDNA capture were recovered in which an mtDNA lineage of one species was captured early in the noctilionid radiation. Among subspecific mtDNA clades, which were generally coincident with morphology and statistically definable as species, signatures of ongoing hybridization were observed in sex chromosome sequences and AFLP. Divergence dating of genetic elements corroborates the diversification of extant Noctilio beginning about 3 Ma, with ongoing hybridization between mitochondrial lineages separated by 2.5 myr. The timeframe of species' divergence within Noctilio supports the hypothesis that shifts in the dietary strategies of gleaning insects (N. albiventris) or fish (N. leporinus) are among the most rapid instances of dietary evolution observed in mammals. This study illustrates the complex evolutionary dynamics shaping gene pools in nature, how comparisons of genetic elements can serve for understanding species boundaries, and the complex considerations for accurate taxonomic assignment.
Lizards and snakes (squamates) are known for their varied sex determining systems, and gecko lizards are especially diverse, having evolved sex chromosomes independently multiple times. While sex chromosomes frequently turnover among gecko genera, intrageneric turnovers are known only from Gekko and Hemidactylus. Here, we used RADseq to identify sex-specific markers in two species of Burmese bent-toed geckos. We uncovered XX/XY sex chromosomes in Cyrtodactylus chaunghanakwaensis and ZZ/ZW sex chromosomes in Cyrtodactylus pharbaungensis. This is the third instance of intrageneric turnover of sex chromosomes in geckos. Additionally, Cyrtodactylus are closely related to another genus with intrageneric turnover, Hemidactylus. Together, these data suggest that sex chromosome turnover may be common in this clade, setting them apart as exceptionally diverse in a group already known for diverse sex determination systems.
The white-bellied sea eagle, Haliaeetus leucogaster, displays reversed sexual size dimorphism and is monomorphic for adult plumage coloration. Early attempts to identify sex in sexually monomorphic birds were based on morphological or chromosomal characters, but since avian W-specific DNA sequences were identified, PCR amplification has become commonly used for molecular sexing. We used a PCR test employing primers that amplify two homologous fragments of both the CHD-W gene, unique to females, and the CHD-Z gene, occurring in both sexes. This test was applied to five individuals of H. leucogaster from the Malacca Zoo and to male and female domestic chickens, Gallus domesticus, for comparison. All individuals were sexed successfully with high reproducibility. We conclude that this PCR-based test with feathers as the DNA source is a reliable sexing method for H. leucogaster. This sexing technique is objective and non-invasive and could be used to test sex ratio theories, as well as to help improve conservation and management actions for captive breeding program of this species in Malaysia.