Conservation and Evolution of Microsatellites in Vertebrate Genomes
Thesis DisciplineBiological Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Microsatellites are strings of short DNA motifs (≤6 bp) repeated in tandem across genomes of both prokaryotes and eukaryotes. In 20 years, they became popular genetic markers, successfully employed in the field of genetic mapping and gene hunting, as well as to address various biological questions at the individual, family, population and species level. However, evolutionary and demographic inferences from microsatellite polymorphism are hampered by controversy and ambiguity in the mutational processes of microsatellite sequences. Drawing on new data from genome projects, I review in Chapter 1 the concept of a microsatellite life cycle, which hypothesizes that microsatellites follow a life cycle from birth, through expansion, contraction, death and potentially resurrection. To document and understand this integrative concept of evolution, which could help improve current models of microsatellite evolution, there is an implicit need to study the evolution of microsatellites above the species level. A prerequisite of such comparative studies is therefore to find microsatellite loci that are conserved between different species. The near or full completion of many vertebrate genomes and their alignment against one another offer the ultimate approach to find genomic elements conserved over a large evolutionary scale. In Chapter 2, I present a new comprehensive method to find conserved microsatellites in whole genomes. Using the multiple-alignment of the human genome against those of 11 mammalian and five non-mammalian vertebrates, I examine the genomewide conservation of microsatellites, and challenge the general assumption that microsatellites are too labile to be maintained in distant species. In Chapter 3, I present similar results using the alignment of the newly sequenced platypus genome against those of three mammals, the chicken and the lizard, and incorporate these data into the framework created by the 17-genome analysis. This enlarged dataset was ground for attempting to reconstruct a vertebrate phylogeny from the presence/absence of microsatellites in the different genomes. Maximum parsimony analyses resulted in a tree much similar to that of the current view of the vertebrate phylogeny, while Bayesian analyses showed some discrepancies. This work opens a way for novel theoretical developments regarding the inference of ancestral states of microsatellites. In Chapter 4, I show how knowledge on conserved microsatellite sites can help for the development of a set of comparative primers useful across the Mammalia; implementing a similar protocol, nine conserved dinucleotide repeats were genotyped in 20 unrelated individuals of 18 species (nine sister species) encompassing the mammalian phylogeny, including marsupials and monotremes, and four microsatellites were sequenced in 4 individuals per species. My results emphasize conserved microsatellites as a new resource for genetic mapping and population studies. Finally, in Chapter 5, I recount the unexpected extent of structural change among mammalian orthologous microsatellites, including change of complexity, motif replacement and overall length variability. Altogether, these findings provide a comprehensive framework that may help in many areas of research, including molecular ecology, genome mapping, population genetics, and genome and microsatellite evolution.