The Oxytricha trifallax Macronuclear Genome: A Complex Eukaryotic Genome with 16,000 Tiny Chromosomes
The macronuclear genome of the ciliate Oxytricha trifallax displays an extreme and unique eukaryotic genome architecture with extensive genomic variation. During sexual genome development, the expressed, somatic macronuclear genome is whittled down to the genic portion of a small fraction (~5%) of its precursor “silent” germline micronuclear genome by a process of “unscrambling” and fragmentation. The tiny macronuclear “nanochromosomes” typically encode single, protein-coding genes (a small portion, 10%, encode 2–8 genes), have minimal noncoding regions, and are differentially amplified to an average of ~2,000 copies. We report the high-quality genome assembly of ~16,000 complete nanochromosomes (~50 Mb haploid genome size) that vary from 469 bp to 66 kb long (mean ~3.2 kb) and encode ~18,500 genes. Alternative DNA fragmentation processes ~10% of the nanochromosomes into multiple isoforms that usually encode complete genes. Nucleotide diversity in the macronucleus is very high (SNP heterozygosity is ~4.0%), suggesting that Oxytricha trifallax may have one of the largest known effective population sizes of eukaryotes. Comparison to other ciliates with nonscrambled genomes and long macronuclear chromosomes (on the order of 100 kb) suggests several candidate proteins that could be involved in genome rearrangement, including domesticated MULE and IS1595-like DDE transposases. The assembly of the highly fragmented Oxytricha macronuclear genome is the first completed genome with such an unusual architecture. This genome sequence provides tantalizing glimpses into novel molecular biology and evolution. For example, Oxytricha maintains tens of millions of telomeres per cell and has also evolved an intriguing expansion of telomere end-binding proteins. In conjunction with the micronuclear genome in progress, the O. trifallax macronuclear genome will provide an invaluable resource for investigating programmed genome rearrangements, complementing studies of rearrangements arising during evolution and disease. The macronuclear genome of the ciliate Oxytricha trifallax, contained in its somatic nucleus, has a unique genome architecture. Unlike its diploid germline genome, which is transcriptionally inactive during normal cellular growth, the macronuclear genome is fragmented into at least 16,000 tiny (~3.2 kb mean length) chromosomes, most of which encode single actively transcribed genes and are differentially amplified to a few thousand copies each. The smallest chromosome is just 469 bp, while the largest is 66 kb and encodes a single enormous protein. We found considerable variation in the genome, including frequent alternative fragmentation patterns, generating chromosome isoforms with shared sequence. We also found limited variation in chromosome amplification levels, though insufficient to explain mRNA transcript level variation. Another remarkable feature of Oxytricha's macronuclear genome is its inordinate fondness for telomeres. In conjunction with its possession of tens of millions of chromosome-ending telomeres per macronucleus, we show that Oxytricha has evolved multiple putative telomere-binding proteins. In addition, we identified two new domesticated transposase-like protein classes that we propose may participate in the process of genome rearrangement. The macronuclear genome now provides a crucial resource for ongoing studies of genome rearrangement processes that use Oxytricha as an experimental or comparative model.