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Title: Small RNA and genome interactions in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii recombinants
Author: Hessenberger, Daisy Sophia Innes
ISNI:       0000 0004 6062 2864
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2015
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When conspecific individuals are crossed, the ensuing hybridization creates a spectrum of phenotypes in the resulting offspring. Many of hybrid traits will be additive, similar to the parental phenotypes. In some cases however, transgressive phenotypes are formed, outside the range of that of the parental phenotypes. Transgressive phenotypes can either be restricted to the F1 generation or be heritable throughout the hybrid lineage. While the mechanism behind heritable transgressive phenotyped is yet to be determined, transgressive gene expression is thought to be the root cause of their formation. Epigenetics modifications, heritable variation separate to the DNA code, can alter gene expression, persist through generations, and vary between individuals and over time. This makes them ideal candidates to be involved in the formation of transgressive phenotypes. RNA silencing is an epigenetic mechanism of gene regulation relying on 20Q24nt single stranded small RNAs (sRNAs). Small RNAs, due to their ability to set up persistent epigenetic marks at a locus, have the potential to create heritable transgressive gene expression. For example, when genetic variation from one parental genome presents novel targets to the sRNAs of the other parental genome, new epigenetic marks such as DNA methylation or secondary sRNAs can be created at target sites. In order to understand the potential of small RNAs to influence hybrid phenotype, I designed crossing experiments with Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, choosing this unicellular alga due to the genetic tools available and the haploid nature of its vegetative cells. The specific aim of the experiment was to identify transgressively expressed sRNA populations. Crossing two geographically distinct strains of C. reinhardtii, and sequencing both the genomes and sRNAomes of parents and recombinants, I was able catalogue both genetic and epigenetic variation in the parental strains providing unique insight into the inheritance of small RNAs in this alga. In this thesis, I first compare the genomes of the parental strains, identifying polymorphisms and assessing genetic variation in RNA silencing pathway components. I then describe the sRNA profiles of the parental strains, identifying differentially expressed sRNA loci. I then describe my approach to identifying transgressively expressed sRNA loci in the hybrids. While many sRNA loci in the recombinants exhibit additive sRNA expression, I found multiple transgressively expressed sRNA loci. Using the available bioinformatics tools, I identified potential miRNAs and phased secondary sRNAs within the list of transgressively expressed loci. Target analysis of one of the transgressively expressed miRNAs linked it with the transgressive expression of certain phased loci, suggesting a potential for sRNAs to be able to set up heritable epigenetic marks in recombinant C. reinhardtii cells.
Supervisor: Baulcombe, David Sponsor: University of Cambridge
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: epigenetics ; epigenome ; RNA silencing ; algae ; genetics ; genome sequencing ; recombination ; hybridization ; small RNAs ; siRNAs ; phasiRNAs ; Chlamydomonas reinhardtii