European pea crabs - taxonomy, morphology, and host-ecology (Crustacea: Brachyura: Pinnotheridae)
- Pinnotherids are small crabs symbiotic to a variety of invertebrates. The European species infest bivalves and sea squirts. Their way of life is parasitic and poses a threat to commercially exploited bivalves. While juveniles of both sexes still look very similar - being agile swimmers and partially free living - a metamorphosis takes place in the female after mating and results in a conspicuous sexual dimorphism. Thereafter, the female settles in its host definitely and is morphologically strongly adapted to the parasitic life phase. A very high reproductive output was demonstrated among several pea crab species infesting bivalves. Despite from that, hardly any information is present in the literature on the pinnotherids’ reproductive biology and the underlying morphology.
Due to their cryptic way of life, the sexual dimorphism, and the different morphotypes of the female, the taxonomy of the Pinnotheridae is a serious challenge. Two widely accepted species are recognized on European coasts: Pinnotheres pisum and Nepinnotheres pinnotheres. Pinnotheres pectunculi was so far only known from the bivalve Glycymeris glycymeris in its type locality Roscoff (France), while Pinnotheres ascidicola and Pinnotheres marioni were described as living exclusively in ascidians without careful comparison with the previously described species. In order to produce standardized comparative descriptions, pea crabs were collected and studied from different hosts and localities in the Northeast Atlantic and in the Mediterranean. Nepinnotheres pinnotheres and Pinnotheres pisum were redescribed with consideration to characters of female and male. According to our morphological analysis, Pinnotheres ascidicola and Pinnotheres marioni are junior synonyms of Nepinnotheres pinnotheres, whereas the status of Pinnotheres pectunculi as a valid species was ascertained. Important characters are the mouthparts, the male gonopods, and especially chelipeds that showed consistent characteristics among different crab stages of both sexes.
Based on our sampling, we estimated the host-range of the European species. Nepinnotheres pinnotheres lives in ascidians and in the pen shell Pinna nobilis. Pinnotheres pisum infests numerous bivalve species - Pinna nobilis included. For Pinnotheres pectunculi novel host records are presented, all from the bivalve family Veneridae. Furthermore, feeding of the Pinnotheres-species was observed. They use a setae comb ventrally on the claw to brush mucus (and the accumulated food particles) from the bivalve gills. Feeding strategies and host-ecology will be thoroughly discussed in consideration to other Pinnotheridae.
We investigated the reproductive systems of European pinnotherids by histological methods, scanning and transmission electron microscopy, and confocal laser scanning microscopy.
The Eubrachyura have internal fertilization: paired vaginas enlarge into storage structures, the spermathecae, which are connected to the ovaries by oviducts. Sperm is stored until the oocytes are mature and transported into the spermathecae, where fertilization takes place. In the investigated pinnotherids, the vagina is of the ‘concave pattern’. Musculature is attached alongside flexible parts of the vagina-wall to control the dimension of its lumen. The genital opening is closed by a muscular mobile operculum.
The spermatheca can be divided into two distinct regions by function and morphology. The ventral part includes the connection with vagina and oviduct and is regarded as the zone where fertilization takes place. It is lined with cuticle except where the oviduct enters the spermatheca by the ‘holocrine transfer tissue’. At ovulation, the oocytes have to pass through this multi-layered glandular epithelium, which has a holocrine mode secretion. The dorsal part of the spermatheca is lined by a highly secretory apocrine glandular epithelium, which was to date only found in fiddler crabs of the genus Uca.
The male internal reproductive system consists of paired testes and corresponding vasa deferentia. The sperm morphology of pinnotherids conforms to other thoracotremes, with slight differences between Nepinnotheres pinnotheres and Pinnotheres pisum. Spermatozoa become enveloped into spermatophores in the secretory proximal vas deferens. The medial vas deferens is strongly enlarged and stores spermatophores embedded in seminal plasma. The distal vas deferens holds tubular appendices, which extend into the ventral cephalothorax and slightly into the pleon. These appendices produce and store vast quantities of seminal plasma. The copulatory system of the Brachyura is formed by paired penes and two pairs of gonopods, which function in sperm transfer. In pinnotherids, the long first gonopods transfers the sperm mass to the female. It holds the ejaculatory canal inside, which opens proximally and distally. The second gonopod is solid, short and conical. During copulation, the penis and the second gonopod are inserted into the base of the tubular first gonopod. The second gonopod functions in the transport of the sperm mass inside the ejaculatory canal towards its distal opening. The specific shape of the second gonopod is strongly adapted for a sealing of the tubular first gonopod with longitudinal cuticle foldings that interlock inside the first gonopod. The presented results are discussed concerning their function in reproduction and in respect of the systematic account.
The role of secretion in sperm transfer, storage and fertilization among the Brachyura is still under debate. It is notable that structure and function of secretion are more complex in pinnotherids and probably more efficient than in other brachyuran crabs, which will be discussed, in view of the parasitic way of life and the high fecundity of pinnotherids.
Posttranscriptional regulation of the microRNA-17-92a cluster
- By far not all genetic information is expressed by mRNA coding regions of the DNA. 98% of the human genome is not encoding for proteins. Therefore, these non-coding regions have been considered as “junk DNA” for a long time [1, 2]. The last years, new high throughput sequencing techniques have allowed the elucidation of the heterogeneous population of non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs, Table 1). RNAs longer than 200 nucleotides (nt) belong to the family of long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs). They can exhibit numerous functions: The biggest family of RNAs is represented by the ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs). Together with the transfer RNAs (tRNAs) they are essential for the translation of mRNA into an amino acid sequence.
The socio-economic importance of non-timber forest products for rural livelihoods in West African savanna ecosystems: current status and future trends
- For millennia, rural West African communities living in or adjacent of savanna ecosystems have been collecting components of local plant species (e.g. fruits, leaves, bark) in order to fulfil essential household subsistence needs (alimentation, medical care, energy demand etc.), to generate cash income and to overcome times of (financial) crisis. Thus, these non-timber forest products (NTFPs) make a considerable contribution to the well-being of local households. However, climate and land use change severely impact West African savanna ecosystems and, consequently, the safe-guarding of dependent rural livelihoods. The conversion of savanna area into cultivated land for subsistence farming owing to the ongoing population growth, as well as the progressive promotion of cash crops (e.g. cotton) is ever-increasing. As a consequence, present land-use management in West Africa has to cope with serious trade-offs. Within this decision-making NTFPs have been constantly understated due to a lack of appropriate economic figures to use within common cost-benefit analysis, and, thus, have been frequently outcompeted by seemingly more profitable land-use options. Therefore, it is crucial to provide appropriate economic data for NTFPs in order to create positive incentives for both decision-makers and NTFP beneficiaries to conserve NTFP-providing trees. The key finding of this analysis is that income from NTFPs accounts for 39 % on average of an annual total household income in Northern Benin, representing the second largest income share next to crop income and proving the respective households to be economically heavily dependent on NTFPs. Thereby, socio-economic characteristics of NTFP users tremendously shape their preferences for woody species. Particularly ethnicity has a major impact on the species used and the economic return obtained by them. Moreover, the study investigated the impacts of climate and land use change on the economic benefits derived from the three economically most important tree species in the region Vitellaria paradoxa, Parkia biglobosa and Adansonia digitata in 2050: Environmental changes will have primarily negative effects on the economic returns from all the three species. At large, the study underpins the economic relevance of NTFPs for rural communities in West African savannas and, consequently, the necessity to appropriately sustain them in order to safe-guard local livelihoods. Providing key figures on the current and future economic benefits obtained from NTFPs can augment common cost-benefit analysis, and, delivering detailed information about peoples’ use preferences for local species, this study clearly contributes to improve the basis of decision-making with reference to local land-use policies.
Function of flotillins in Alzheimer disease and apoptosis
Bincy Anu John
- Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a common, age associated neurodegenerative disease that manifests as progressive dementia and is characterized by accumulation of the amyloid beta (Aβ) peptide which is a processing product of a transmembrane protein termed Alzheimer Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP). The Aβ peptide is generated by a sequential proteolytic processing of APP by two distinct proteases that are termed β- and γ-secretase. The β-secretase, also called BACE-1 or memapsin 2, belongs to the family of aspartyl proteases. BACE-1 evidently cleaves APP in an acidic endosomal compartment after endocytosis of APP, thereby facilitating Aβ peptide generation.
Sorting of transmembrane proteins is generally controlled by sorting signals in the cytoplasmic domains of the cargo proteins. The short cytoplasmic tail of BACE-1 with 23 amino acids contains a sorting signal of the acidic cluster, di-leucine (ACDL) type. The two Leu residues in this determinant are important for the clathrin mediated endocytosis of BACE-1, whereas the acidic residues together with the Leu are required for the endosomal sorting and recycling of BACE-1 back to the plasma membrane. The ACDL motif binds to the members of the GGA (Golgi-localized γ ear-containg ARF- binding proteins) family (GGA1-GGA3) that are involved in the sorting of BACE-1.
One of the major aims of this study was to address the role of flotillins in the intracellular sorting of BACE-1. This study shows that flotillin-1 directly binds to the di-leucine motif in the cytoplasmic tail of BACE-1, whereas flotillin-2 only shows an association mediated by flotillin-1. Flotillin-1 competes with GGA2 for the binding to BACE-1 tail, and thus influences the endosomal sorting of BACE-1. Importantly, depletion of flotillins results in an altered localization of the wildtype BACE-1, whereas the plasma membrane resident Leu to Ala (LLAA) mutant is not affected. Flotillin knockdown results in an accumulation of BACE-1, implicating reduced degradation and enhanced stability of this protease. Thus, flotillins appear to be important for the cellular targeting of BACE-1 and also influence the amyloidogenic processing of APP, as demonstrated by an increase in the amyloidogenic C-99 processing fragments.
When flotillin depleted cells were subjected to apoptotic stresses including Aβ25-35 synthetic peptide (inducer of the extrinsic apoptosis pathway) or several chemotherapeutic agents (staurosporine, brefeldin A, doxorubicin, carboplatin and paclitaxel: intrinsic apoptosis pathway) and cytotoxicity was determined, various apoptotic markers were activated in flotillin depleted cells. Caspase-3 and GGA3 are well accepted apoptosis markers and an enhanced caspase-3 cleavage was detected upon STS induced apoptosis in SH-SY5Y, HeLa, and HaCaT cell lines and increased GGA3 cleavage was observed in MCF7 cell line.
One of the major reasons for the apoptotic sensitivity in the absence of flotillins was a PI3K/Akt signaling defect. Neuroblastoma cells depleted of flotillins showed diminished levels of total Akt, phospho-Akt and phospho-ERK upon STS induced apoptosis. Since PI3K/Akt was the primary survival pathway affected upon STS induced apoptosis, ectopic expression of Akt in neuroblastoma cell line reduced caspase-3 cleavage and retarded apoptosis.
The direct downstream target of Akt is FOXO3a, whose localization was investigated in flotillin depleted cells. A major proportion of FOXO3a was localized in the nucleus of flotillin knockdown cells, implicating that FOXOs are active in these cells and subsequently trigger the transcription of death genes. Strikingly, an essential anti-apoptotic molecule and a major cancer target, Mcl-1, was inherently downregulated in flotillin knockdown cells. Mcl-1 is a chief member of the Bcl-2 family as it plays a pivotal role in cell survival and it is a critical protein in cancer therapeutics as suppression of Mcl-1 protein can curtail the survival and growth of tumorous cells.
Neuroblastoma cells were rescued from undergoing permanent damage due to STS induced apoptosis by overexpression of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2. Phorbol esters are well known PKC activators, and pre-treatment of neuroblastoma cells with phorbol esters along with staurosporine reduced caspase-3 cleavage.
These results demonstrate that absence of flotillins can sensitize cellular systems to apoptosis induction. The two main characteristics of cancer cells include resistance to apoptosis and unresponsiveness to chemotherapeutic agents. It is a well established fact that impaired apoptosis is central to tumour development. This study implicates that the downregulation of flotillin function can trigger cellular susceptibility and enhances apoptosis in response to conventional chemotherapeutic agents. Therefore, flotillins can serve as vital regulators in providing a more rational approach in molecular-targeted therapies for receding cancer growth and survival.
Biochemical characterization of Fucoxanthin Chlorophyll a/c binding proteins in the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum
- Diatoms contribute largely to the total primary production of the ecosphere and are key players in global biogeochemical cycles. Their chloroplasts are surrounded by four membranes owing to their secondary endosymbiotic origin. Their thylakoids are arranged into three parallel bands and differentiation of thylakoid membranes into grana or stroma is not observed. The fucoxanthin chlorophyll a/c binding proteins act as the light harvesting proteins and play a role in photoprotection during excess light as well. The diatom genome encodes three different families of antenna proteins. Family I are the classical light harvesting proteins called "Lhcf". Family II are the red algae related Lhca-R1/2 proteins called "Lhcr" and family III are the photoprotective LI818 related proteins called "Lhcx".
All known Fcps have a molecular weight in the range of 17-23 kDa. They are membrane proteins and have shorter loops and termini compared to LHCs of higher plants and are therefore extremely hydrophobic. This makes the isolation of single specific Fcps using routine protein purification techniques difficult.
The purification of a specific Fcp containing complex has not been achieved so far and until this is done several questions concerning light harvesting antenna systems of diatoms cannot be answered. For e.g. Which proteins interact specifically? Are various Fcps differently pigmented? Which pigments interact with each other and how? Which proteins contribute to photosystem specific antenna systems? Can pure Fcps be reconstituted into crystals like LHCII proteins? In order to answer these questions specific Fcp containing complexes have to be purified. ...
Identification of biomarkers for the fruiting body formation in Myxococcus xanthus
- Myxobacteria are on order of Gram-negative, soil dwelling bacteria that feature an impressive number of properties: they can glide on solid surfaces by using two different motility motors, subsist by preying on other microorganisms, are often producers of multiple natural products, and upon adverse environmental conditions, they are able to form multicellular structures called “fruiting bodies”. The process, in which these macroscopically visible structures arise from independent single cells, has been the predominant subject of myxobacterial research for many decades. More precisely, researchers have strived for the discovery of genes, proteins and small molecules that act as signals, receivers or modulators of this complex process. In this regard, the species Myxococcus xanthus has evolved into the model organism due to its relatively simple and reliable handling in a laboratory environment. The research underlying this thesis focused on the identification and biosynthesis of lipids that may act as intercellular signaling molecules during the course of fruiting body formation of the myxobacterium Myxococcus xanthus as part of the “E-signal” system. In general, lipids containing branched-chain fatty acids with an uneven number of carbon atoms were found to be important players in this particular process. Nevertheless, their exact roles remain largely unknown as of this day. The first publication that is part of this thesis deals with an aspect that even strengthened the importance of role of iso-branched compounds in myxobacteria: myxobacterial metabolism is able to transform precursors of iso-lipids to isoprenoids. It addresses the question whether isoprenoids in general are important for fruiting body formation. Phenotypic analysis of mutants impaired in the biosynthesis of the central isoprenoid precursor 3-hydroxymethylglutaryl-Coenzyme A (3-HMG-CoA) from acetate and/or branched chain keto acids and their genetic and metabolic complementation clearly showed that isoprenoids are essential for fruiting body formation and confirmed that leucine derived isovalerate is an important source for isoprenoid precursors in myxobacteria. The second, and by far and away most tedious and sophisticated study, addressed the question as to how myxobacteria form fatty acid derived iso-branched ether lipids and to what extent they are important for fruiting body formation and sporulation. In a previous study, those unusual lipids were identified as specific biomarkers for myxobacterial development. No biochemical pathways to ether lipids specific for prokaryotes were known by then. In this study, a putative candidate gene that may be in involved in ether lipid biosynthesis was investigated. A combination of gene disruption and complementation experiments, phenotypic analysis and monitoring of ether lipid formation by means of GC-MS demonstrated its involvement in myxobacterial ether lipid biosynthesis and the importance of these lipids for the developmental process. Heterologous expression and biochemical testing of this gene together with in-silico sequence analysis and docking experiments confirmed the functions of its predicted domains. The discussion section provides an additional suggestion on how the ether bond formation is performed. Furthermore and most importantly, iso-branched ether lipids were found to be essential for sporulation but not for fruiting body formation. In summary, one or several molecules derived from an iso-branched alkylglycerol seem to play a role during sporulation in M. xanthus and a multidomain enzyme unique for myxobacteria is involved in their biosynthesis. The last manuscript addresses the complexity of lipid metabolism in myxobacteria. Prior to this work, there was limited knowledge about the exact composition of the myxobacterial lipidome and no method was available to monitor putative changes in the myxobacterial lipidome down to the single molecular species for studying lipid biosynthesis or regulation. An ultra-performance liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry based method with electrospray ionization (UPLC-ESI-MS) utilizing standard equipment and a water/acetonitrile/isopropanol based eluent system proved to be geared for the construction of lipid profiles for wild type and mutant cells of M. xanthus and to show their differences. Fragmentation spectra based structure elucidation of lipid molecular species resulted in the identification of 99 molecular species comprising glycerophosphoethanolamines, glycerophosphoglycerols, glycerolipids, ceramides and ceramide phosphoinositols. The latter have never been described for any prokaryotes before. Three dimensional plots were created from the relative intensity differences of the single molecular ion species between the different samples to provide an efficient and versatile visualization of the data and enable the researcher to quickly detect differences.
Taxonomic revision, molecular phylogeny and zoogeography of the huntsman spider genus Eusparassus (Araneae: Sparassidae)
- The spider genus Eusparassus Simon, 1903 (Araneae: Sparassidae: Eusparassinae; stone huntsman spider) is revised worldwide to include 30 valid species distributed exclusively in Africa and Eurasia. The type species E. dufouri Simon, 1932 is redescribed and a neotype is designated from Portugal. An extended diagnosis for the genus is presented. Eight new species are described: Eusparassus arabicus Moradmand, 2013 (male, female) from Arabian Peninsula, E. educatus Moradmand, 2013 (male, female) from Namibia, E. reverentia Moradmand, 2013 (male, female) from Burkina Faso and Nigeria, E. jaegeri Moradmand, 2013 (male, female) from South Africa and Botswana, E. jocquei Moradmand, 2013 (male, female) from Zimbabwe, E. borakalalo Moradmand, 2013 (female) from South Africa, E. schoemanae Moradmand, 2013 (male, female) from South Africa and Namibia and E. mesopotamicus Moradmand and Jäger, 2012 (male and female) from Iraq, Iran and Turkey. 22 species are re-described six of them are transferred from the genus Olios Walckenaer, 1837. Six species-groups are proposed: the dufouri-group [8 species: E. dufouri, E. levantinus Urones, 2006, E. barbarus (Lucas, 1846), E. atlanticus Simon, 1909, E. syrticus Simon, 1909, E. oraniensis (Lucas, 1846), E. letourneuxi (Simon, 1874), E. fritschi (Koch, 1873); Iberian Peninsula to parts of north-western Africa], walckenaeri-group [3 species: E. walckenaeri (Audouin, 1826), E. laevatus (Simon, 1897), E. arabicus; eastern Mediterranean to Arabia and parts of north-eastern Africa], doriae-group [7 species: E. doriae (Simon, 1874), E. kronebergi Denis, 1958, E. maynardi (Pocock, 1901), E. potanini (Simon, 1895), E. fuscimanus Denis, 1958, E. oculatus (Kroneberg, 1846) and E. mesopotamicus; Middle East to Central and South Asia], vestigator-group (3 species: E. vestigator (Simon, 1897), E. reverentia, E. pearsoni (Pocock, 1901); central to eastern Africa and an isolated area in NW India], jaegeri-group [4 species: E. jaegeri, E. jocquei, E. borakalalo, E. schoemanae; southern and south-eastern Africa], tuckeri-group [2 species: E. tuckeri (Lawrence, 1927), E. educatus; south-western Africa). Two species, E. pontii Caporiacco, 1935 and E. xerxes (Pocock, 1901) cannot be placed in any of the above groups. Two species are transferred from Eusparassus to Olios: O. flavovittatus (Caporiacco, 1935) and O. quesitio Moradmand, 2013. 14 species are recognized as misplaced in Eusparassus, thus nearly half of the described species prior to this revision were placed mistakenly in this genus. Neotypes are designated for E. walckenaeri from Egypt, E. barbarus, E. oraniensis and E. letourneuxi (all three from Algeria) to establish their identity. The male and female of Cercetius perezi Simon, 1902, which was known only from the immature holotype, are described for the first time. It is recognized that the monotypic and little used generic name Cercetius Simon, 1902 — a species, which had been known only from the immature holotype — as a synonym of the widely used name Eusparassus. The case proposal 3596 (conservation of name Eusparassus) is under consideration by ICZN.
The first comprehensive molecular phylogeny of the family Sparassidae with focus on the genus Eusparassus is investigated using four molecular markers (mitochondrial COI and 16S; nuclear H3 and 28S). The monophyly of Eusparassus and the dufouri, walckenaeri and doriae species-groups are recovered with the latter two groups more closely related. The monophyly of the tuckeri-group is not supported and the position of E. jaegeri as the only available member of the jaegeri-group is not resolved within the Eusparassus clade. DNA samples of the vestigator-group were not accessible for this study. The origination of the genus Eusparassus around 70 million years ago (MA) is estimated according to molecular clock analyses. Using this recent result in combination with some biogeographic and geological data, the Namib Desert is proposed as the place of ancestral origin for Eusparassus and putative Eusparassinae genera.
Further analyses are done on the phylogenetic relationships of Sparassidae and its subfamilies. The Eusparassinae are not confirmed as monophyletic, with the two original genera Eusparassus and Pseudomicrommata in separate clades and only the latter clusters with most other assumed Eusparassinae, here termed the "African clade". Monophyly of the subfamilies Sparianthinae, Heteropodinae sensu stricto, Palystinae and Deleninae is recovered. The Sparianthinae are supported as the most basal clade, diverging considerably early (143 MA) from all other Sparassidae. The Sparassinae and genus Olios are found to be polyphyletic. The Sparassidae are confirmed as monophyletic and as most basal group within the RTA-clade. The divergence time of Sparassidae from the RTA-clade is estimated with 186 MA in the Jurassic. No affiliation of Sparassidae to other members of the "Laterigradae" (Philodromidae, Selenopidae and Thomisidae) is observed, thus the crab-like posture of this group was proposed a result of convergent evolution. Only the families Philodromidae and Selenopidae are found members of a supported clade. Including a considerable amount of RTA-clade representatives, the higher-level clade Dionycha is not but monophyly of the RTA-clade itself is supported.
Genetic and chemical biology approaches for the characterization of the yeast PDK1 orthologs in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Candida albicans
- Fungal organisms, including the most common human pathogens Candida spp., are commensal organisms that are widely present as part of the human flora. Fungal infections are, most frequently, local infections that do not compromise the life of patients. However, mycotic diseases can be life-threatening if they become systemic infections. Systemic fungal infections have risen over the last three decades in parallel to the increased immune-compromised population as a consequence of diseases (e.g. HIV/AIDS) or therapeutic interventions that affect the immune system (e.g. chemotherapy for cancer treatment and immunosuppressors used for patients with organ transplants). This has resulted in the demand of new antifungal drugs that can eradicate the new infections caused by these opportunistic fungal pathogens. However, most of the current compounds have poor pharmaceutical properties such as narrow spectrum of activity, susceptibility to be extruded by efflux pumps or lack of specificity, which make them not suitable for human clinical applications. The treatment of fungal and parasitic infections has been traditionally difficult because the infective organisms are eukaryotic cells that share most of the pathways and enzymes with human cells. To avoid side effects and to develop a targeted therapy, the research has traditionally been centered on the very few enzymes and pathways existing in the infectious organism but absent in humans. Until now, antifungal therapeutic options are limited and are almost dominated by azole class of sterol biosynthesis inhibitors affecting the synthesis of ergosterol, a major constituent of the fungal cell membrane. Because human cells do not have a cell wall, the development of effective and safe antifungal agents has also been directed to enzymes required for the synthesis of the cell wall. Alternatively, it is theoretically possible to target enzymes that are present in fungal organisms and in humans, when: 1) sufficient selectivity can be achieved, and 2) inhibition of the fungal enzyme is lethal to the fungus but does not produce major side effects to humans. In this line, it would be ideal to evaluate the development of selective inhibitors of enzymes which are already known to be drug targets, like protein kinases.
Nephronectin regulates cardiac valve development via BMP4-HAS2 signaling in zebrafish
- It has been estimated that about 1% of live births carry severe congenital heart defects and 20-30% among them have valve malformations. Despite its medical importance the underlying cause of many valvular diseases remains undiscovered. Thus, it is important to identify genes that play a crucial role in cardiac valve formation and maturation.
A temporal RNA expression analysis of heart development suggested that the extracellular matrix protein Nephronectin might be a novel regulator of valve development and/or trabeculation. Nephronectin is transiently expressed during rat heart development at the time of heart valve morphogenesis and trabeculation. Moreover, the extracellular matrix is known to be crucial for organogenesis. It is a complex, dynamic and critical component that regulates cell behavior by modulating the activity, bioavailability, or presentation of growth factors to cell surface receptors.
In order to verify the hypothesis that Nephronectin is a novel regulator of valve formation and/or trabeculation the zebrafish was chosen as model system. Females are able to spawn at intervals of 5 days laying hundreds of eggs in each clutch. Development progresses rapidly with precursors to all major organs appearing within 36 hours post fertilization. Zebrafish embryos develop externally, are translucent and continue to grow for several days despite developing severely malformed, non functional hearts. In addition, gene expression can be easily modulated. During the present study it has been shown that Nephronectin expression is correlated to valve development and trabeculation. Morpholinomediated knockdown of Nephronectin in zebrafish caused failure of valve formation and trabeculation resulting in > 85% lethality at 7 days post fertilization.
Cardiac valve formation is initiated at the junction of atrium and ventricle and is characterized by extracellular matrix deposition and endocardial cell differentiation. In accordance with the above-described phenotype the earliest observed abnormality in Nephronectin morphants was an extended tube like structure at the atrio-ventricular boundary. In addition, the expression of myocardial genes involved in cardiac valve formation (cspg2, fibulin1, tbx2b, bmp4) was expanded and endocardial cells along the extended tube like structure exhibited characteristics of atrio-ventricular cells (has2, notch1b and Alcam expression, cuboidal cell shape). Inhibition of has2 in Nephronectin morphants rescued the endocardial but not the myocardial expansion. In contrast, diminishment of BMP signaling in npnt morphants resulted in reduced ectopic expression of myocardial and endocardial atrio-ventricular markers. Taken together, these results identify Nephronectin as a novel upstream regulator of BMP4-HAS2 signaling playing a crucial role in atrio-ventricular canal differentiation.
Climate-linked temporal and spatial patterns in the evolution of African bovidae
Tim F. Schikora
- Climate and subsequent environmental changes are regarded as one driver of species evolution. Against this background the present study investigates the evolutionary history of the mammalian family Bovidae (Cetartiodactyla, Mammalia), today the most species-rich family of large herbivores on the African continent. Temporal and spatial patterns in that group’s evolution are the focus of the present study and were investigated using methods and data deriving from multiple disciplines (palaeontology, genetics, climatology, conservation biology). The results serve as a validation of macroevolutionary hypotheses of species evolution.
A major proportion of African mammalian fossils can be assigned to that family. Due to their morphological adaptations, bovid species are highly indicative of their habitats. Hence, bovids are of great importance for paleontology. However, a strong taphonomic bias is present in the fossil record of bovids, favoring large and arid- adapted species. Molecular phylogenies of extant species and species distribution modelling combined with climate reconstructions can help to overcome these limitations.
A molecular phylogeny, based on the cytochrome b gene of 136 bovid species served as basis for analysis of temporal patterns. Divergence events were dated using the relaxed molecular clock approach. The tree was time calibrated at 30 nodes using information inferred from the fossil record. Lineage-Through-Time plots and the respective statistical analyses reveal detailed temporal patterns in the evolutionary history of tribes and groups combining arid- and humid-adapted tribes. The resulting pattern shows three distinct phases. Phase 1 (P1) is dominated by speciation events within the humid group, while the second phase (P2) is marked by a dominance of speciation within the arid group. The switch in diversification rates (BDS) from P1 to P2 is dated to 2.8 million years ago. The third phase (P3) shows low diversification rates for all groups, starting around 1.4 million year ago and culminates in a significantly reduced diversification rate for the complete family at 0.8 million years ago. Both transitions are contemporaneous with global climate changes and turnover events in fossil faunal communities.
To investigate the impact of climate changes onto the habitat availability within the last 3 million years and its putative influence on diversification rates, the species distribution modeling method was applied. For 85 African species and subspecies the climate niches were established and grouped into 5 climate-groups based on their climate preferences. For each group the available habitat for the period before and after the BDS was calculated on continental scale using reconstructed climate scenarios. To evaluate the modeled habitat distributions, regional analyses were performed in test areas surrounding well studied fossil sites (Laetoli, Olduvai, Chiwondo Beds, Lothagam, Koobi Fora, West Turkana, Swartkrans, Sterkfontain und Toros-Menalla). Habitat profiles (HP) permitted the comparison of the model based habitat reconstruction with the interpretations of classic paleontological reconstruction. The validity of the habitat modeling has been shown in particular for East African test areas. The reconstructions for the northern and southern fossil sites does not support the modeled habitats in these areas. Yet, the method of habitat- profiling may serve as suitable tool for environmental reconstruction of areas lacking sufficient paleontological material. A comparison of habitat availability before and after the BDS on continental scale identified a significant loss of habitat for humid adapted groups (7-22%) and habitat gain for arid adapted groups (19-173%). The climatically intermediate group experiences a tremendous gain of habitat (3366%). The greatest environmental change was modeled for East Africa, initiated by a progressive regional aridification.
In addition to the distribution modeling for past climate conditions, the geographical distribution was modeled for the future, i.e. for climate scenarios representing the years 2050 and 2080 under a putative climate change scenario (global surface warming). It was shown that in particular the arid groups have to expect a remarkable loss of habitat (41-76%), while a gain of available habitat can be expected for the humid adapted groups (114-577%). The climatically intermediate group suffers the strongest habitat loss (85%). Regions with locally stable climate conditions were detected and may serve as potential refugia and are already today known as Africa’s hot spots of biodiversity.
The results show a positive correlation of high diversification rates and increasing habitat availability. None of the tested speciation hypotheses taken alone explains the observations (e.g., Turnover-pulse Hypothesis, Relay Model). A major element in these hypotheses is the passive fragmentation of populations induced by unfavorable climate changes. In contrast, the Periodic Model (Grubb 1999) considers natural, periodically recurring climate changes and moreover, the active dispersal of individuals and resulting founder events. I added the effect of a superimposed directed climate trend – like the progressive aridification since the late Pliocene in Africa – which leads to a bias in the proportion and probability towards leading edge effects. This Directed Periodic Model explains the patterns found in the evolution of Bovidae.
The combination of a molecular phylogeny and species distribution modeling, together with information inferred from the fossil record, reveals remarkable temporal and spatial patterns in the evolution of bovids, and helps overcome the limitations of the fossil record. The present study highlights the importance of active dispersal and founder populations in speciation processes. A point widely unattended in speciation hypotheses. The fully dated molecular phylogeny is the most densely sampled tree for the family Bovidae to date and may serve as a framework for a connection of present and future population studies, permitting the connection of medium-scale with long- term effects induced by climate and environmental changes.