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See detailEvolutionary Genomics and Conservation of the Endangered Przewalski's Horse.
Der Sarkissian, Clio; Ermini, Luca; Schubert, Mikkel et al

in Current Biology (2015), 25(19), 2577-83

Przewalski's horses (PHs, Equus ferus ssp. przewalskii) were discovered in the Asian steppes in the 1870s and represent the last remaining true wild horses. PHs became extinct in the wild in the 1960s but ... [more ▼]

Przewalski's horses (PHs, Equus ferus ssp. przewalskii) were discovered in the Asian steppes in the 1870s and represent the last remaining true wild horses. PHs became extinct in the wild in the 1960s but survived in captivity, thanks to major conservation efforts. The current population is still endangered, with just 2,109 individuals, one-quarter of which are in Chinese and Mongolian reintroduction reserves [1]. These horses descend from a founding population of 12 wild-caught PHs and possibly up to four domesticated individuals [2-4]. With a stocky build, an erect mane, and stripped and short legs, they are phenotypically and behaviorally distinct from domesticated horses (DHs, Equus caballus). Here, we sequenced the complete genomes of 11 PHs, representing all founding lineages, and five historical specimens dated to 1878-1929 CE, including the Holotype. These were compared to the hitherto-most-extensive genome dataset characterized for horses, comprising 21 new genomes. We found that loci showing the most genetic differentiation with DHs were enriched in genes involved in metabolism, cardiac disorders, muscle contraction, reproduction, behavior, and signaling pathways. We also show that DH and PH populations split approximately 45,000 years ago and have remained connected by gene-flow thereafter. Finally, we monitor the genomic impact of approximately 110 years of captivity, revealing reduced heterozygosity, increased inbreeding, and variable introgression of domestic alleles, ranging from non-detectable to as much as 31.1%. This, together with the identification of ancestry informative markers and corrections to the International Studbook, establishes a framework for evaluating the persistence of genetic variation in future reintroduced populations. [less ▲]

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See detailPrehistoric genomes reveal the genetic foundation and cost of horse domestication.
Schubert, Mikkel; Jonsson, Hakon; Chang, Dan et al

in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (2014), 111(52), 5661-9

The domestication of the horse approximately 5.5 kya and the emergence of mounted riding, chariotry, and cavalry dramatically transformed human civilization. However, the genetics underlying horse ... [more ▼]

The domestication of the horse approximately 5.5 kya and the emergence of mounted riding, chariotry, and cavalry dramatically transformed human civilization. However, the genetics underlying horse domestication are difficult to reconstruct, given the near extinction of wild horses. We therefore sequenced two ancient horse genomes from Taymyr, Russia (at 7.4- and 24.3-fold coverage), both predating the earliest archeological evidence of domestication. We compared these genomes with genomes of domesticated horses and the wild Przewalski's horse and found genetic structure within Eurasia in the Late Pleistocene, with the ancient population contributing significantly to the genetic variation of domesticated breeds. We furthermore identified a conservative set of 125 potential domestication targets using four complementary scans for genes that have undergone positive selection. One group of genes is involved in muscular and limb development, articular junctions, and the cardiac system, and may represent physiological adaptations to human utilization. A second group consists of genes with cognitive functions, including social behavior, learning capabilities, fear response, and agreeableness, which may have been key for taming horses. We also found that domestication is associated with inbreeding and an excess of deleterious mutations. This genetic load is in line with the "cost of domestication" hypothesis also reported for rice, tomatoes, and dogs, and it is generally attributed to the relaxation of purifying selection resulting from the strong demographic bottlenecks accompanying domestication. Our work demonstrates the power of ancient genomes to reconstruct the complex genetic changes that transformed wild animals into their domesticated forms, and the population context in which this process took place. [less ▲]

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See detailSpeciation with gene flow in equids despite extensive chromosomal plasticity.
Jonsson, Hakon; Schubert, Mikkel; Seguin-Orlando, Andaine et al

in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (2014), 111(52), 18655-60

Horses, asses, and zebras belong to a single genus, Equus, which emerged 4.0-4.5 Mya. Although the equine fossil record represents a textbook example of evolution, the succession of events that gave rise ... [more ▼]

Horses, asses, and zebras belong to a single genus, Equus, which emerged 4.0-4.5 Mya. Although the equine fossil record represents a textbook example of evolution, the succession of events that gave rise to the diversity of species existing today remains unclear. Here we present six genomes from each living species of asses and zebras. This completes the set of genomes available for all extant species in the genus, which was hitherto represented only by the horse and the domestic donkey. In addition, we used a museum specimen to characterize the genome of the quagga zebra, which was driven to extinction in the early 1900s. We scan the genomes for lineage-specific adaptations and identify 48 genes that have evolved under positive selection and are involved in olfaction, immune response, development, locomotion, and behavior. Our extensive genome dataset reveals a highly dynamic demographic history with synchronous expansions and collapses on different continents during the last 400 ky after major climatic events. We show that the earliest speciation occurred with gene flow in Northern America, and that the ancestor of present-day asses and zebras dispersed into the Old World 2.1-3.4 Mya. Strikingly, we also find evidence for gene flow involving three contemporary equine species despite chromosomal numbers varying from 16 pairs to 31 pairs. These findings challenge the claim that the accumulation of chromosomal rearrangements drive complete reproductive isolation, and promote equids as a fundamental model for understanding the interplay between chromosomal structure, gene flow, and, ultimately, speciation. [less ▲]

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See detailCharacterization of ancient and modern genomes by SNP detection and phylogenomic and metagenomic analysis using PALEOMIX.
Schubert, Mikkel; Ermini, Luca; Der Sarkissian, Clio et al

in Nature protocols (2014), 9(5), 1056-82

Next-generation sequencing technologies have revolutionized the field of paleogenomics, allowing the reconstruction of complete ancient genomes and their comparison with modern references. However, this ... [more ▼]

Next-generation sequencing technologies have revolutionized the field of paleogenomics, allowing the reconstruction of complete ancient genomes and their comparison with modern references. However, this requires the processing of vast amounts of data and involves a large number of steps that use a variety of computational tools. Here we present PALEOMIX (http://geogenetics.ku.dk/publications/paleomix), a flexible and user-friendly pipeline applicable to both modern and ancient genomes, which largely automates the in silico analyses behind whole-genome resequencing. Starting with next-generation sequencing reads, PALEOMIX carries out adapter removal, mapping against reference genomes, PCR duplicate removal, characterization of and compensation for postmortem damage, SNP calling and maximum-likelihood phylogenomic inference, and it profiles the metagenomic contents of the samples. As such, PALEOMIX allows for a series of potential applications in paleogenomics, comparative genomics and metagenomics. Applying the PALEOMIX pipeline to the three ancient and seven modern Phytophthora infestans genomes as described here takes 5 d using a 16-core server. [less ▲]

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See detailmapDamage2.0: fast approximate Bayesian estimates of ancient DNA damage parameters.
Jonsson, Hakon; Ginolhac, Aurélien UL; Schubert, Mikkel et al

in Bioinformatics (Oxford, England) (2013), 29(13), 1682-4

MOTIVATION: Ancient DNA (aDNA) molecules in fossilized bones and teeth, coprolites, sediments, mummified specimens and museum collections represent fantastic sources of information for evolutionary ... [more ▼]

MOTIVATION: Ancient DNA (aDNA) molecules in fossilized bones and teeth, coprolites, sediments, mummified specimens and museum collections represent fantastic sources of information for evolutionary biologists, revealing the agents of past epidemics and the dynamics of past populations. However, the analysis of aDNA generally faces two major issues. Firstly, sequences consist of a mixture of endogenous and various exogenous backgrounds, mostly microbial. Secondly, high nucleotide misincorporation rates can be observed as a result of severe post-mortem DNA damage. Such misincorporation patterns are instrumental to authenticate ancient sequences versus modern contaminants. We recently developed the user-friendly mapDamage package that identifies such patterns from next-generation sequencing (NGS) sequence datasets. The absence of formal statistical modeling of the DNA damage process, however, precluded rigorous quantitative comparisons across samples. RESULTS: Here, we describe mapDamage 2.0 that extends the original features of mapDamage by incorporating a statistical model of DNA damage. Assuming that damage events depend only on sequencing position and post-mortem deamination, our Bayesian statistical framework provides estimates of four key features of aDNA molecules: the average length of overhangs (lambda), nick frequency (nu) and cytosine deamination rates in both double-stranded regions ( ) and overhangs ( ). Our model enables rescaling base quality scores according to their probability of being damaged. mapDamage 2.0 handles NGS datasets with ease and is compatible with a wide range of DNA library protocols. AVAILABILITY: mapDamage 2.0 is available at ginolhac.github.io/mapDamage/ as a Python package and documentation is maintained at the Centre for GeoGenetics Web site (geogenetics.ku.dk/publications/mapdamage2.0/). SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online. [less ▲]

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See detailRecalibrating Equus evolution using the genome sequence of an early Middle Pleistocene horse.
Orlando, Ludovic; Ginolhac, Aurélien UL; Zhang, Guojie et al

in Nature (2013), 499(7456), 74-8

The rich fossil record of equids has made them a model for evolutionary processes. Here we present a 1.12-times coverage draft genome from a horse bone recovered from permafrost dated to approximately 560 ... [more ▼]

The rich fossil record of equids has made them a model for evolutionary processes. Here we present a 1.12-times coverage draft genome from a horse bone recovered from permafrost dated to approximately 560-780 thousand years before present (kyr BP). Our data represent the oldest full genome sequence determined so far by almost an order of magnitude. For comparison, we sequenced the genome of a Late Pleistocene horse (43 kyr BP), and modern genomes of five domestic horse breeds (Equus ferus caballus), a Przewalski's horse (E. f. przewalskii) and a donkey (E. asinus). Our analyses suggest that the Equus lineage giving rise to all contemporary horses, zebras and donkeys originated 4.0-4.5 million years before present (Myr BP), twice the conventionally accepted time to the most recent common ancestor of the genus Equus. We also find that horse population size fluctuated multiple times over the past 2 Myr, particularly during periods of severe climatic changes. We estimate that the Przewalski's and domestic horse populations diverged 38-72 kyr BP, and find no evidence of recent admixture between the domestic horse breeds and the Przewalski's horse investigated. This supports the contention that Przewalski's horses represent the last surviving wild horse population. We find similar levels of genetic variation among Przewalski's and domestic populations, indicating that the former are genetically viable and worthy of conservation efforts. We also find evidence for continuous selection on the immune system and olfaction throughout horse evolution. Finally, we identify 29 genomic regions among horse breeds that deviate from neutrality and show low levels of genetic variation compared to the Przewalski's horse. Such regions could correspond to loci selected early during domestication. [less ▲]

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See detailImproving ancient DNA read mapping against modern reference genomes.
Schubert, Mikkel; Ginolhac, Aurélien UL; Lindgreen, Stinus et al

in BMC genomics (2012), 13

BACKGROUND: Next-Generation Sequencing has revolutionized our approach to ancient DNA (aDNA) research, by providing complete genomic sequences of ancient individuals and extinct species. However, the ... [more ▼]

BACKGROUND: Next-Generation Sequencing has revolutionized our approach to ancient DNA (aDNA) research, by providing complete genomic sequences of ancient individuals and extinct species. However, the recovery of genetic material from long-dead organisms is still complicated by a number of issues, including post-mortem DNA damage and high levels of environmental contamination. Together with error profiles specific to the type of sequencing platforms used, these specificities could limit our ability to map sequencing reads against modern reference genomes and therefore limit our ability to identify endogenous ancient reads, reducing the efficiency of shotgun sequencing aDNA. RESULTS: In this study, we compare different computational methods for improving the accuracy and sensitivity of aDNA sequence identification, based on shotgun sequencing reads recovered from Pleistocene horse extracts using Illumina GAIIx and Helicos Heliscope platforms. We show that the performance of the Burrows Wheeler Aligner (BWA), that has been developed for mapping of undamaged sequencing reads using platforms with low rates of indel-types of sequencing errors, can be employed at acceptable run-times by modifying default parameters in a platform-specific manner. We also examine if trimming likely damaged positions at read ends can increase the recovery of genuine aDNA fragments and if accurate identification of human contamination can be achieved using a strategy previously suggested based on best hit filtering. We show that combining our different mapping and filtering approaches can increase the number of high-quality endogenous hits recovered by up to 33%. CONCLUSIONS: We have shown that Illumina and Helicos sequences recovered from aDNA extracts could not be aligned to modern reference genomes with the same efficiency unless mapping parameters are optimized for the specific types of errors generated by these platforms and by post-mortem DNA damage. Our findings have important implications for future aDNA research, as we define mapping guidelines that improve our ability to identify genuine aDNA sequences, which in turn could improve the genotyping accuracy of ancient specimens. Our framework provides a significant improvement to the standard procedures used for characterizing ancient genomes, which is challenged by contamination and often low amounts of DNA material. [less ▲]

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