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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Exploration of the Germline Genome of the Ciliate Chilodonella uncinata through Single-Cell Omics (Transcriptomics and Genomics).

  • Author(s): Maurer-Alcalá, Xyrus X
  • Knight, Rob
  • Katz, Laura A
  • et al.

Separate germline and somatic genomes are found in numerous lineages across the eukaryotic tree of life, often separated into distinct tissues (e.g., in plants, animals, and fungi) or distinct nuclei sharing a common cytoplasm (e.g., in ciliates and some foraminifera). In ciliates, germline-limited (i.e., micronuclear-specific) DNA is eliminated during the development of a new somatic (i.e., macronuclear) genome in a process that is tightly linked to large-scale genome rearrangements, such as deletions and reordering of protein-coding sequences. Most studies of germline genome architecture in ciliates have focused on the model ciliates Oxytricha trifallax, Paramecium tetraurelia, and Tetrahymena thermophila, for which the complete germline genome sequences are known. Outside of these model taxa, only a few dozen germline loci have been characterized from a limited number of cultivable species, which is likely due to difficulties in obtaining sufficient quantities of "purified" germline DNA in these taxa. Combining single-cell transcriptomics and genomics, we have overcome these limitations and provide the first insights into the structure of the germline genome of the ciliate Chilodonella uncinata, a member of the understudied class Phyllopharyngea Our analyses reveal the following: (i) large gene families contain a disproportionate number of genes from scrambled germline loci; (ii) germline-soma boundaries in the germline genome are demarcated by substantial shifts in GC content; (iii) single-cell omics techniques provide large-scale quality germline genome data with limited effort, at least for ciliates with extensively fragmented somatic genomes. Our approach provides an efficient means to understand better the evolution of genome rearrangements between germline and soma in ciliates.IMPORTANCE Our understanding of the distinctions between germline and somatic genomes in ciliates has largely relied on studies of a few model genera (e.g., Oxytricha, Paramecium, Tetrahymena). We have used single-cell omics to explore germline-soma distinctions in the ciliate Chilodonella uncinata, which likely diverged from the better-studied ciliates ~700 million years ago. The analyses presented here indicate that developmentally regulated genome rearrangements between germline and soma are demarcated by rapid transitions in local GC composition and lead to diversification of protein families. The approaches used here provide the basis for future work aimed at discerning the evolutionary impacts of germline-soma distinctions among diverse ciliates.

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