Chromosome and Genome Evolution in Culicinae Mosquitoes

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Virginia Tech


The Culicinae is the most extensive subfamily among the Culicidae family of mosquitoes. Two genera, Culex and Aedes, from this subfamily have world-wide distribution and are responsible for transmitting of several deadly diseases including Zika, West Nile fevers, chikungunya, dengue, and Rift Valley fevers. Developing high-quality genome assembly for mosquitoes, studying their population structure, and evolution can help to facilitate the development of new strategies for vector control. Studies on Aedes albopitcus as well as on species from the Culex pipiens complex, which are widely spread in the United States, provide excellent models on these topics.

Ae. albopictus is one of the most dangerous invasive mosquito species in the world that transmits more than 20 arboviruses. This species has highly repetitive genome that is the largest among mosquito genomes sequenced so far. Thus, sequencing and assembling of such genome is extremally challenging. As a result, the lack of high-quality Ae. albopictus genome assembly has delayed the progress in understanding its biology. To produce a high-quality genome assembly, it was important to anchor genomic scaffolds to the cytogenetic map creating a physical map of the genome assembly. We first developed a new gene-based approach for the physical mapping of repeat-rich mosquito genomes. The approach utilized PCR amplification of the DNA probes based on complementary DNA (cDNA) that does not include repetitive DNA sequences. This method was then used for the development of a physical map for Ae. albopictus based on the in situ hybridization of fifty cDNA fragments or gene exons from twenty-four scaffolds to the mitotic chromosomes from imaginal discs. This study resulted in the construction of a first physical map of the Ae. albopictus genome as well as mapping viral integration and polyphenol oxidase genes. Moreover, comparing our present Ae. albopictus physical map to the current Ae. aegypti assembly indicated the presence of multiple chromosomal inversions between them.

To better understand population structure and chromosome evolution in Culicinae mosquitoes, especially in the Culex pipiens complex, we studied genomic and chromosomal differentiation between two subspecies Cx. pipiens pipiens and Cx. pipiens molestus. For the species responsible for the spread of human diseases, understanding the population dynamics and processes of taxa diversification is important for an effective mosquito control . Two vectors of West Nile virus, Cx. p. pipiens and Cx. p. molestus, exhibit epidemiologically important behavioral and physiological differences, but the whole-genome divergence between them was unexplored. The first goal of this study was to better understand the level of genomic differentiation and population structures of Cx. p. pipiens and Cx. p. molestus from different continents. We sequenced and compared whole genomes of 40 individual mosquitoes from two locations in Eurasia and two in North America. Principal Component, ADMIXTURE, and neighbor joining analyses of the nuclear genomes identified two major intercontinental, monophyletic clusters of Cx. p. pipiens and Cx. p. molestus. The level of genomic differentiation between the subspecies was uniform along chromosomes. The ADMIXTURE analysis determined signatures of admixture in Cx. p. pipens populations, but not in Cx. p. molestus populations. Thus, our study identified that Cx. p. molestus and Cx. p. pipiens represent different evolutionary units with monophyletic origin that have undergone incipient ecological speciation. The second goal was to study differences at the chromosome level between these two organisms. We first measured whole chromosome and chromosome arm length differences between Cx. p. molestus and Cx. p. pipiens as a basic cytogenetic approach. In addition, we used the novel Hi-C approach to detect chromosomal rearrangements between them since Hi-C was successful in detecting a known inversion in Cx. quinquefasciatus. Cx. p. molestus and Cx. p. pipiens embryos were used to perform the Hi-C technique. Analysis of the Hi-C data showed the presence of two different inversions in Cx. p. pipiens and Cx. p. molestus heatmap, which could explain their different physiology and adaptation in nature. Developing modern genomic and cytogenetic tools is important to enhance the quality of genome assemblies, improve gene annotation, and provide a better framework for comparative and population genomics of mosquitoes; also it is the foundation for the development of novel genome-based approaches for vector control.



Mosquito, Aedes albopictus, Culex pipiens complex, physical map, genome assembly, Fluorescent in situ hybridization