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Home > Communication > Scientific newsletter > Scientific publications

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26 March 2018

Slippage of degenerate primers can cause variation in amplicon length [PeerJ]

Keywords : primer development, bias, primer slippage, length variation, degeneracy, metabarcoding

Metabarcoding studies often employ degenerate primers to reduce amplification bias and increase the number of detected taxa. However, degeneracy has the disadvantage of lowering binding specificity although the exact mechanisms and potential biases introduced by such off-target amplification are not fully understood. We examined sequences recovered from the ten most abundant operational taxonomic units (OTUs) in two mock communities to investigate the specificity and binding behavior of five degenerate primer sets. Our results indicate that primers frequently bound 1-2 bp upstream in taxa where a homopolymer region was present in the amplification direction. As well, although less frequent, degeneracy occasionally led to primer binding 1 bp downstream. Some widely used primer sets were severely affected by this slippage effect, while others were not. Our study shows that primer slippage can produce taxon-specific length variation in amplicons and subsequent length variation in recovered sequences.(...)

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26 March 2018

Floral resource partitioning by individuals within generalised hoverfly pollination networks revealed by DNA metabarcoding [Scientific Reports]

Keywords : community ecology, ecological networks, ecosystem services, grassland ecology

Pollination is a key ecosystem service for agriculture and wider ecosystem function. However, most pollination studies focus on Hymenoptera, with hoverflies (Syrphidae) frequently treated as a single functional group. We tested this assumption by investigating pollen carried by eleven species of hoverfly in five genera, Cheilosia, Eristalis, Rhingia, Sericomyia and Volucella, using DNA metabarcoding. Hoverflies carried pollen from 59 plant taxa, suggesting they visit a wider number of plant species than previously appreciated.(...)

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26 March 2018

The origin and evolution of mycorrhizal symbioses: from palaeomycology to phylogenomics [New Phytologist]

The ability of fungi to form mycorrhizas with plants is one of the most remarkable and enduring adaptations to life on land. The occurrence of mycorrhizas is now well established in c. 85% of extant plants, yet the geological record of these associations is sparse. Fossils preserved under exceptional conditions provide tantalizing glimpses into the evolutionary history of mycorrhizas, showing the extent of their occurrence and aspects of their evolution in extinct plants. The fossil record has important roles to play in establishing a chronology of when key fungal associations evolved and in understanding their importance in ecosystems through time. Together with calibrated phylogenetic trees, these approaches extend our understanding of when and how groups evolved in the context of major environmental change on a global scale.(...)

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26 March 2018

A genomics approach reveals insights into the importance of gene losses for mammalian adaptations [Nature Communications]

Keywords : evolutionary genetics, genome informatics, molecular evolution

Identifying the genomic changes that underlie phenotypic adaptations is a key challenge in evolutionary biology and genomics. Loss of protein-coding genes is one type of genomic change with the potential to affect phenotypic evolution. Here, we develop a genomics approach to accurately detect gene losses and investigate their importance for adaptive evolution in mammals. We discover a number of gene losses that likely contributed to morphological, physiological, and metabolic adaptations in aquatic and flying mammals. These gene losses shed light on possible molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie these adaptive phenotypes. In addition, we show that gene loss events that occur as a consequence of relaxed selection following adaptation provide novel insights into species’ biology. Our results suggest that gene loss is an evolutionary mechanism for adaptation that may be more widespread than previously anticipated. Hence, investigating gene losses has great potential to reveal the genomic basis underlying macroevolutionary changes.

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26 March 2018

DNA metabarcoding from sample fixative as a quick and voucher preserving biodiversity assessment method |BioRxiv]

Metabarcoding is a powerful tool for biodiversity assessment and has become increasingly popular in recent years. Although its reliability and applicability have been proven in numerous scientific studies, metabarcoding still suffers from some drawbacks. One is the usually mandatory destruction of specimens before DNA extraction, which is problematic because it does not allow a later taxonomic evaluation of the results. Additionally, metabarcoding often implements a time-consuming step, where specimens need to be separated from substrate or sorted in different size classes. A non-destructive protocol, excluding any sorting step, where the extraction of DNA is conducted from a samples fixative (ethanol) could serve as an alternative. We test an innovative protocol, where the sample preserving ethanol is filtered and DNA extracted from the filter for subsequent DNA metabarcoding. We first tested the general functionality of this approach on 15 mock communities comprising one individual of eight different macroinvertebrate taxa each and tried to increase DNA yield through different treatments (ultrasonic irradiation, shaking, freezing). Application of the method was successful for most of the samples and taxa, but showed weaknesses in detecting mollusc taxa. In a second step, the community composition detected in DNA from ethanol was compared to conventional bulk sample metabarcoding of complex environmental samples. We found that especially taxa with pronounced exoskeleton or shells (Coleoptera, Isopoda) and small taxa (Trombidiformes) were underrepresented in ethanol samples regarding taxa diversity and read numbers.(...)

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