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Integr Comp Biol. 2008 Oct;48(4):454-62. doi: 10.1093/icb/icn062. Epub 2008 Jun 24.

Turtle isochore structure is intermediate between amphibians and other amniotes.

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Department of Zoology, University of Florida, 223 Bartram Hall, PO Box 118525, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA.


Vertebrate genomes are comprised of isochores that are relatively long (>100 kb) regions with a relatively homogenous (either GC-rich or AT-rich) base composition and with rather sharp boundaries with neighboring isochores. Mammals and living archosaurs (birds and crocodilians) have heterogeneous genomes that include very GC-rich isochores. In sharp contrast, the genomes of amphibians and fishes are more homogeneous and they have a lower overall GC content. Because DNA with higher GC content is more thermostable, the elevated GC content of mammalian and archosaurian DNA has been hypothesized to be an adaptation to higher body temperatures. This hypothesis can be tested by examining structure of isochores across the reptilian clade, which includes the archosaurs, testudines (turtles), and lepidosaurs (lizards and snakes), because reptiles exhibit diverse body sizes, metabolic rates, and patterns of thermoregulation. This study focuses on a comparative analysis of a new set of expressed genes of the red-eared slider turtle and orthologs of the turtle genes in mammalian (human, mouse, dog, and opossum), archosaurian (chicken and alligator), and amphibian (western clawed frog) genomes. EST (expressed sequence tag) data from a turtle cDNA library enriched for genes that have specialized functions (developmental genes) revealed using the GC content of the third-codon-position to examine isochore structure requires careful consideration of the types of genes examined. The more highly expressed genes (e.g., housekeeping genes) are more likely to be GC-rich than are genes with specialized functions. However, the set of highly expressed turtle genes demonstrated that the turtle genome has a GC content that is intermediate between the GC-poor amphibians and the GC-rich mammals and archosaurs. There was a strong correlation between the GC content of all turtle genes and the GC content of other vertebrate genes, with the slope of the line describing this relationship also indicating that the isochore structure of turtles is intermediate between that of amphibians and other amniotes. These data are consistent with some thermal hypotheses of isochore evolution, but we believe that the credible set of models for isochore evolution still includes a variety of models. These data expand the amount of genomic data available from reptiles upon which future studies of reptilian genomics can build.

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