• A massively multi-scale approach to characterizing tissue architecture by synchrotron micro-CT applied to the human placenta

      Tun, W. M; Poologasundarampillai, G.; Bischof, H.; Nye, Gareth; King, O. N. F.; Basham, M.; Tokudome, Y.; Lewis, R. M.; Johnstone, E. D.; Brownbill, Paul; et al. (The Royal Society, 2021-06-02)
      Multi-scale structural assessment of biological soft tissue is challenging but essential to gain insight into structure–function relationships of tissue/organ. Using the human placenta as an example, this study brings together sophisticated sample preparation protocols, advanced imaging and robust, validated machine-learning segmentation techniques to provide the first massively multi-scale and multi-domain information that enables detailed morphological and functional analyses of both maternal and fetal placental domains. Finally, we quantify the scale-dependent error in morphological metrics of heterogeneous placental tissue, estimating the minimal tissue scale needed in extracting meaningful biological data. The developed protocol is beneficial for high-throughput investigation of structure–function relationships in both normal and diseased placentas, allowing us to optimize therapeutic approaches for pathological pregnancies. In addition, the methodology presented is applicable in the characterization of tissue architecture and physiological behaviours of other complex organs with similarity to the placenta, where an exchange barrier possesses circulating vascular and avascular fluid spaces.
    • Direct and indirect causal effects of heterozygosity on fitness-related traits in Alpine ibex

      Brambilla, Alice; Biebach, Iris; Bassano, Bruno; Bogliani, Giuseppe; von Hardenberg, Achaz; Università di Pavia, Italy; University of Zurich, Switzerland; Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy; University of Chester, UK (The Royal Society, 2015-01-07)
      Heterozygosity–fitness correlations (HFCs) are a useful tool to investigate the effects of inbreeding in wild populations, but are not informative in distinguishing between direct and indirect effects of heterozygosity on fitness-related traits. We tested HFCs in male Alpine ibex (Capra ibex) in a free-ranging population (which suffered a severe bottleneck at the end of the eighteenth century) and used confirmatory path analysis to disentangle the causal relationships between heterozygosity and fitness-related traits. We tested HFCs in 149 male individuals born between 1985 and 2009. We found that standardized multi-locus heterozygosity (MLH), calculated from 37 microsatellite loci, was related to body mass and horn growth, which are known to be important fitness-related traits, and to faecal egg counts (FECs) of nematode eggs, a proxy of parasite resistance. Then, using confirmatory path analysis, we were able to show that the effect of MLH on horn growth was not direct but mediated by body mass and FEC. HFCs do not necessarily imply direct genetic effects on fitness-related traits, which instead can be mediated by other traits in complex and unexpected ways.
    • Peptide mass fingerprinting of preserved collagen in archaeological fish bones for the identification of flatfish in European waters

      Dierickx, Katrien; Presslee, Samantha; Hagan, Richard; Oueslati, Tarek; Harland, Jennifer; Hendy, Jessica; Orton, David; Alexander, Michelle; Harvey, Virginia L.; University of York; University of Lille (The Royal Society, 2022-07-27)
      Bones of Pleuronectiformes (flatfish) are often not identified to species due to the lack of diagnostic features on bones that allow adequate distinction between taxa. This hinders in-depth understanding of archaeological fish assemblages and particularly flatfish fisheries throughout history. This is especially true for the North Sea region, where several commercially significant species have been exploited for centuries, yet their archaeological remains continue to be understudied. In this research, 8 peptide biomarkers for 18 different species of Pleuronectiformes from European waters are described using MALDI-TOF MS and LC-MS/MS data obtained from modern reference specimens. Bone samples (n=202) from three archaeological sites in the UK and France dating to the medieval period (c. 7th–16th century CE) were analysed using ZooMS. Of the 201 that produced good quality spectra, 196 were identified as flatfish species, revealing a switch in targeted species through time and indicating that ZooMS offers a more reliable and informative approach for species identification than osteological methods alone. We recommend this approach for future studies of archaeological flatfish remains as the precise species uncovered from a site can tell much about the origin of the fish, where people fished and whether they traded between regions.
    • Phylogenetic analyses of ray-finned fishes (Actinopterygii) using collagen type I protein sequences

      Harvey, Virginia L.; Keating, Joseph N.; Buckley, Michael; University of Manchester; University of Bristol (The Royal Society, 2021-08-11)
      Ray-finned fishes (Actinopterygii) are the largest and most diverse group of vertebrates, comprising over half of all living vertebrate species. Phylogenetic relationships between ray-finned fishes have historically pivoted on the study of morphology, which has notoriously failed to resolve higher order relationships, such as within the percomorphs. More recently, comprehensive genomic analyses have provided further resolution of actinopterygian phylogeny, including higher order relationships. Such analyses are rightfully regarded as the ‘gold standard’ for phylogenetics. However, DNA retrieval requires modern or well-preserved tissue and is less likely to be preserved in archaeological or fossil specimens. By contrast, some proteins, such as collagen, are phylogenetically informative and can survive into deep time. Here, we test the utility of collagen type I amino acid sequences for phylogenetic estimation of ray-finned fishes. We estimate topology using Bayesian approaches and compare the congruence of our estimated trees with published genomic phylogenies. Furthermore, we apply a Bayesian molecular clock approach and compare estimated divergence dates with previously published genomic clock analyses. Our collagen-derived trees exhibit 77% of node positions as congruent with recent genomic-derived trees, with the majority of discrepancies occurring in higher order node positions, almost exclusively within the Percomorpha. Our molecular clock trees present divergence times that are fairly comparable with genomic-based phylogenetic analyses. We estimate the mean node age of Actinopteri at ∼293 million years (Ma), the base of Teleostei at ∼211 Ma and the radiation of percomorphs beginning at ∼141 Ma (∼350 Ma, ∼250–283 Ma and ∼120–133 Ma in genomic trees, respectively). Finally, we show that the average rate of collagen (I) sequence evolution is 0.9 amino acid substitutions for every million years of divergence, with the α3 (I) sequence evolving the fastest, followed by the α2 (I) chain. This is the quickest rate known for any vertebrate group. We demonstrate that phylogenetic analyses using collagen type I amino acid sequences generate tangible signals for actinopterygians that are highly congruent with recent genomic-level studies. However, there is limited congruence within percomorphs, perhaps due to clade-specific functional constraints acting upon collagen sequences. Our results provide important insights for future phylogenetic analyses incorporating extinct actinopterygian species via collagen (I) sequencing.