Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Mitogenome characterization of the shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) for international trade validation of aquaculture-reared caviar
Identifying the population origin of aquaculture-reared caviar is crucial for both conservation and management strategies of farmed fish but could also facilitate international trade of a CITES regulated product. Shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) is the main source of caviar production in Atlantic Canada, from Breviro Caviar Inc. aquaculture facility. Shortnose sturgeon are also listed as a species-at-risk under the Species At Risk Act. Currently there is no genetic method for delineating wild from aquaculture-reared caviar. By targeting the mitochondrial genome (mitogenome) using novel long-range PCR primers and next-generation sequencing (NGS) methods we have successfully sequenced the full mitogenome of 37 shortnose sturgeon. The purpose of this study was to increase the resolution of diagnostic variation among populations and to validate Canadian aquaculture-reared stock from wild US populations. Results provided a previously unobserved novel control region haplotype in high frequency within both the aquaculture-reared and Saint John River wild sample sets. Similar frequencies were observed with whole mitogenome haplotypes. Diagnostic mitochondrial lineage found in high frequency within the captive Breviro Caviar Inc. population has the potential to allow caviar product from Breviro Caviar Inc. to be distinguished from protected US shortnose sturgeon populations. The application of full mitogenomic characterization provides the potential to further resolve differences between aquaculture and natural Canadian shortnose sturgeon stocks, US/Canadian populations and to contribute to future conservation strategies. Future research identifying signatures of selection on the mitogenome between captive and wild populations and across latitudinal gradients found within the species range. These novel methods have produced a proof-of-concept to provide a "farm-to-fork" validation and ecobrand of Breviro Caviar Inc. product and its aquaculture origin to support importation into US caviar markets. Author Keywords: aquaculture, mitogenome, next-generation sequencing, species-at-risk, sturgeon
Exonic Trinucleotide Microsatellites
Trinucleotide repeats (TNRs) are a class of highly polymorphic microsatellites which occur in neutral and non-neutral loci and may provide utility for individual- and population-identification. Exonic trinucleotide motifs, in particular, offer additional advantages for non-human species that typically utilize dinucleotide microsatellite loci. Specifically, the reduction of technical artifacts, greater separation of alleles and greater specificity of amplification products leading to more efficient multiplexing and cross-taxa utilization. This study aims to identify and characterize polymorphic trinucleotide repeats and conserved primer sequences which are conserved across Cervidae (deer) species and their potential for individual identification in forensic wildlife investigations. Chapter one provides a broad introduction to trinucleotide microsatellites, chapter two deals with data-mining TNRs and chapter three applies the identified TNRs as genetic markers for individual identification. Results demonstrate proof-of-concept that exonic TNRs are capable of giving random match probabilities low enough to be employed in individual identification of evidentiary samples. Author Keywords: DNA typing, Exons, Genetic Markers, Individual Identification, Trinucleotide, Wildlife Forensics
NMR and EPR Studies on Cytochrome b5 Isotypes of Giardia intestinalis
The amitochondrial protozoan, Giardia intestinalis, encodes four members of the cytochrome b5 (CYTB5) family of heme proteins of unknown function. While homology models can predict the likely fold of these proteins, supporting experimental evidence is lacking. The small size of the cytochromes (~16 kDa) makes them attractive targets for structural analysis by Electron Paramagnetic Resonance spectroscopy (EPR) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (NMR). EPR measurements are particularly useful in defining the geometry of the coordination environment of the heme iron; such measurements indicated that the planar imidazole rings of the invariant histidine axial ligands are nearly perpendicular to each other, rather than in the coplanar orientation observed within mammalian CYTB5s. This may be due to geometrical constraints imposed by a one-residue shorter spacing between the ligand pair in the Giardia cytochromes b5 (gCYTB5s). Following optimization of sample and instrument conditions for NMR experiments, a comparison of the 1D 1H-NMR spectra of gCYTB5 isotype I to those of three of its heme-pocket mutants (Tyr51→Phe, Tyr61→F, and Cys84→Ala) were used to tentatively assign the heme methyl and vinyl protons. Mutant Tyr61→F had the greatest effect on the wild-type spectrum due to maximum through-space contacts with the heme macrocycle and its proximity to the His63 axial ligand. These experiments are a prelude to further NMR experiments that can lead to solving the complete structures of these proteins. Author Keywords: cytochrome b5, heme b, mutant protein, paramagnetic iron, resonant spectroscopy, sequence homology
Development of genetic profiles for paternity analysis and individual identification of the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis)
The endangered North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) has been internationally protected from whaling since 1935 but recovery has been slow compared to the southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) due to anthropogenic mortalities and poor reproduction. Prey availability, genetic variability, and alleles of genes associated with reproductive dysfunction have been hypothesized to contribute to low calf production. The North Atlantic Right Whale DNA Bank and Database contains 1168 samples from 603 individuals. I added 115 new genetic profiles to the database which now contains profiles for 81% of individuals alive since 1980. Paternity assignments using these profiles resulted in 62% of sampled calves being assigned a father and only 38% of candidate males being assigned a paternity. This may suggest false exclusion due to genotyping errors or the existence of an unknown group of males. The use of the DNA database allowed for the identification of 10 deceased individuals which has implications for identifying cause of death and reducing mortalities. However, genetic identification is dependent on the time of post-mortem sample collection which influences DNA quantity and quality. An assessment for variations in methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, a candidate gene associated with reproductive dysfunction, revealed six females heterozygous for a synonymous A/T variant in exon four which may influence reproductive success through changes in enzyme production, conformation or activity. Author Keywords: Eubalaena glacialis, Forensic Identification, Genetic Profiling, North Atlantic Right Whale, Paternity, Reproductive Dysfunction
Understanding the establishment of Typha spp. in North America using population genetics and common garden studies
There are three cattail (Typha) taxa in Canada: T. latifolia (native), T. angustifolia (introduced), and their hybrid T. x glauca. The latter is invasive in regions around the Laurentian Great Lakes, and I investigated the potential role that commercial suppliers may be playing in the introduction of non-native Typha by comparing genotypes of North American, European, and commercially available plants. I found that Ontario garden centres are importing both hybrids and non-native lineages of T. angustifolia into Canada, but was unable to identify the provenance of T. latifolia. I also investigated the possibility that the hybrid cattail leaf litter shade and leachate influences germination and early growth of the parental species of the hybrids. Using three common garden experiments, I found that T. x glauca leaf litter suppresses germination rates of the three taxa. In the early seedling growth experiment, plant performance varied by taxa, and for the competition experiment there were no intra- or interspecific competition or treatment effects on the performance of plants. Overall, my research identified a potential mechanism allowing T. x glauca to dominate wetlands, and also shows that non-native lineages are being introduced into Canada through commercial trade Author Keywords: Competition, Germination, Non-native lineages, Plant nurseries, Seedling Growth, Typha spp.
Detection of four at-risk freshwater pearly mussel species (Bivalvia
Environmental DNA (eDNA) detection uses species-specific markers to screen DNA from bulk samples, such as water, to infer species presence. This study involved the development and testing of species-specific markers for four freshwater pearly mussels (Unionidae). The markers were applied to water samples from intensively sampled mussel monitoring sites to compare species detections from eDNA with established sampling method detections. Target species were detected using eDNA at all sites where they had previously been detected by quadrat sampling. This paired design demonstrated that eDNA detection was at least as sensitive as quadrat sampling and that high species specificity can be achieved even when designing against many sympatric unionids. Detection failures can impede species conservation efforts and occupancy estimates; eDNA sampling could improve our knowledge of species distributions and site occupancy through increased sampling sensitivity and coverage. Author Keywords: conservation genetics, cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI), environmental DNA (eDNA), quantitative PCR (qPCR), species at risk (SAR)
Functional Genetic Diversity in American Mink (Neovison vison)
The release of domestic organisms to the wild is considered a threat to biodiversity because the introduction of domestic genes through interbreeding can negatively impact wild conspecifics via outbreeding and local extinction. In North America, captive American mink (Neovison vison) are frequently escaping into the wild, yet the impact of these events on the functional genetic diversity of wild mink populations is unclear. I characterized domestic and wild mink in Ontario at 17 trinucleotide microsatellites located in functional genes thought to be associated with traits affected by domestication. I found low functional genetic diversity, as only 4 of 17 genes were variable and of those four there was little evidence of allele frequency differences between domestic and wild mink. Using redundancy analysis and a spatial analysis of principal components on the four variable loci (AR, ATN1, IGF-1, and TOB1) I found no evidence to suggest domestic release events are affecting functional genetic diversity of free-ranging mink at the set of markers assessed. Author Keywords: American mink, domestication, functional gene, introgression, Neovison vison
Assessing Canada Lynx Dispersal Across an Elevation Barrier
Mountain ranges are often thought to restrict movement of wildlife, yet previous studies evaluating the role of the Rocky Mountains as a dispersal barrier for Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) have been contradictory. Our study uses neutral microsatellite loci to evaluate the role of the Rocky Mountains as a barrier to gene flow for lynx. Although lynx exhibited low genetic differentiation, we detected a limited effect of the mountains. Furthermore, we inferred the role played by landscape variables in gene flow (genetic differentiation predicted by landscape resistance). Limited gene flow most strongly related to resistance from physical factors (low snow cover and elevation), rather than other topographic and ecological factors (high terrain roughness, low forest cover, low habitat suitability, and geographic distance). Structural connectivity was a relatively poor predictor of functional connectivity. Overall, the Rockies represent an area of reasonably high functional connectivity for lynx, with limited resistance to gene flow. Author Keywords: Canada lynx, connectivity, gene flow, genetic structure, landscape genetics, Rocky mountains
Reproductive Fitness of Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) Under Heterogeneous Environmental Conditions
Identifying the biotic and abiotic factors that influence individual reproductive fitness under natural conditions is essential for understanding important aspects of a species’ evolutionary biology and ecology, population dynamics, and life-history evolution. Using next generation sequencing technology, I developed five microsatellite multiplex reactions suitable for conducting large scale parentage analysis of smallmouth bass, Micropterus dolomieu, and used molecular pedigree reconstruction techniques to characterize the genetic mating system and mate selection in adult smallmouth bass nesting in Lake Opeongo, Ontario, Canada. I used multivariate spatial autocorrelation analysis to indirectly infer the occurrence and extent of natal philopatry among spawning adults, to assess the strength and direction of sex-bias in natal dispersal patterns, and to evaluate the degree of nest site fidelity and breeding dispersal of spawning adults. I also evaluated how differences in littoral zone water temperature caused by wind-induced seiche events influence the relative reproductive success of spawning adults. Lastly, I provide a synopsis of potential future research aimed at further exploring factors that influence the reproductive fitness of smallmouth bass in Lake Opeongo. This information will contribute to our understanding of the factors regulating smallmouth bass populations, and provide insight into the factors controlling the variance in individual reproductive success and thus recruitment dynamics in this species. Author Keywords: Dispersal, Fitness, Mate selection, Mating systems, Philopatry
Social discrimination by female polar bears (Ursus maritimus) when accompanied by dependent offspring during the ice-free season in southern and western Hudson Bay and James Bay
Polar bears are generally described as solitary, but features of their life cycles and habitats regularly necessitate interaction. Effective conspecific assessment, including accurate recognition and discrimination, likely confers benefits, especially to females accompanied by dependent young. Individuals in the Southern (SH) and Western (WH) Hudson Bay subpopulations are ideal for studying polar bear social behaviours because of the prolonged high densities of the ice-free season. First, I looked outside family groups to model their fine scale sociospatial organization on land. Capture locations were more likely to correspond to family groups when there were fewer neighbouring bears, when a greater proportion of neighbours were female, and when the focal individual and neighbours were significantly related. Second, I looked within the family group to assess offspring recognition. Of 288 offspring in 207 family groups captured in the SH subpopulation from 1999 through 2013, only one case of adoption (of a singleton) was observed. Author Keywords: Adoption, Kin Recognition, Logistic Regression, Maternity Analysis, Social Discrimination, Sociospatial
Time to adapt
To better understand species’ resilience to climate change and implement solutions, we must conserve environments that maintain standing adaptive genetic variation and the potential generation of new beneficial alleles. Coding trinucleotide repeats (cTNRs) providing high-pace adaptive capabilities via high rates of mutation are ideal targets for mitigating the decline of species at risk by characterizing adaptively significant populations. Ultimately, adaptive genetic information will inform the protection of biological diversity below the species level (i.e., “Evolutionarily Significant Units” or “ESUs”). This dissertation investigates cTNRs within candidate genes to determine their prevalence and influence under selection in North American mammals. First, I evaluated the potential for somatic mosaicism in Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), and found that tissue-specific mosaicism does not confound cTNR genotyping success in lynx. Second, I assessed a selection of clock gene cTNRs across characterized mammals and found that these repeats are abundant and highly variable in length and purity. I also identified preliminary signatures of selection in 3 clock gene cTNRs in 3 pairs of congeneric North American mammal species, highlighting the importance of cTNRs for understanding the evolution and adaptation of wild populations. I further evaluated the influence of selection on the NR1D1 cTNR within Canada lynx sampled across Canada using environmental correlation, where I estimated the variation in NR1D1 cTNR alleles explained by environmental and spatial variables after removing the effects of neutral population structure. Although most variation was explained by neutral structure, environment and spatial patterns in eastern lynx populations significantly explained some of the variation in NR1D1 alleles. To examine the role of island populations in the generation and distribution of adaptive genetic variation, I used 14 neutral microsatellites and a dinucleotide repeat within a gene linked to mammalian body size, IGF-1, and found that both genetic drift and natural selection influence the observed genetic diversity of insular lynx. Finally, I estimated the divergence dates of peripheral lynx populations and made recommendations towards the conservation of Canada lynx; high levels of genetic differentiation coupled with post-glacial colonization histories and patterns of divergence at cTNR loci suggest at least 4 ESUs for Canada lynx across their range. Author Keywords: adaptation, Canada lynx, candidate genes, coding trinucleotide repeats, evolution, natural selection
Functional Investigation of A Ustilago maydis Xylose Metabolism Gene and its Antisense Transcripts
Ustilago maydis is a biotrophic fungal plant pathogen that causes ‘common smut of corn’ disease. During infection, U. maydis develops a metabolic dependency on its host, relying on uptake of the carbon molecules provided within Zea mays tissues. The research presented indicated a requirement for metabolism of the pentose sugar D-xylose through functional investigation of a U. maydis xylitol dehydrogenase (uxm1), an enzyme involved in the bioconversion of D-xylose. This work is the first to outline the importance of pentose metabolism during biotrophic plant pathogenesis, as U. maydis haploid cells lacking this gene were impaired in their ability to cause disease and grow on medium containing only D-xylose. This thesis also explored the possibility that expression of this carbon-related gene is controlled by antisense RNAs (asRNAs), endogenous molecules with complementarity to mRNAs. Previous investigation of U. maydis asRNAs identified some that are exclusively expressed in the dormant teliospore, suggesting they have a functional role within this cell-type. A subset of these asRNAs at the uxm1 locus were investigated, with the purpose of identifying the mechanism(s) by which they influence U. maydis pathogenesis. This investigation involved the creation and functional analysis of a series of U. maydis deletion and expression strains. Together, these findings provided additional knowledge regarding the possible functions of U. maydis asRNAs, and their involvement in controlling important cellular processes, such as carbon metabolism and pathogenesis. Author Keywords: antisense transcripts, fungal carbon metabolism, non-coding RNAs, pathogenesis, Ustilago maydis, xylitol dehydrogenase


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