BMC genomics 2018 01 1919(1) 64 doi 10.1186/s12864-018-4452-0
Infectious disease is the single greatest threat to taxa such as amphibians (chytrid fungus), bats (white nose syndrome), Tasmanian devils (devil facial tumor disease), and black-footed ferrets (canine distemper virus, plague). Although understanding the genetic basis to disease susceptibility is important for the long-term persistence of these groups, most research has been limited to major-histocompatibility and Toll-like receptor genes. To better understand the genetic basis of infectious disease susceptibility in a species of conservation concern, we sequenced all known/predicted immune response genes (i.e., the immunomes) in 16 Florida gopher tortoises, Gopherus polyphemus. All tortoises produced antibodies against Mycoplasma agassizii (an etiologic agent of infectious upper respiratory tract disease; URTD) and, at the time of sampling, either had (n = 10) or lacked (n = 6) clinical signs.
We found several variants associated with URTD clinical status in complement and lectin genes, which may play a role in Mycoplasma immunity. Thirty-five genes deviated from neutrality according to Tajima’s D. These genes were enriched in functions relating to macromolecule and protein modifications, which are vital to immune system functioning.
These results are suggestive of genetic differences that might contribute to disease severity, a finding that is consistent with other mycoplasmal diseases. This has implications for management because tortoises across their range may possess genetic variation associated with a more severe response to URTD. More generally: 1) this approach demonstrates that a broader consideration of immune genes is better able to identify important variants, and; 2) this data pipeline can be adopted to identify alleles associated with disease susceptibility or resistance in other taxa, and therefore provide information on a population’s risk of succumbing to disease, inform translocations to increase genetic variation for disease resistance, and help to identify potential treatments.