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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 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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