Skip to main content
Utah's Foremost Platform for Undergraduate Research Presentation
2014 Abstracts

Standing on the shoulders of Woodrats: Adaptive Evolution in Desert Iguanas

Albert Pope, Utah Valley University

Life Sciences

Few animals are capable of using the creosote plant, Larrea tridentate, as food because of a high level of toxic secondary compounds. Some exceptions to this rule are Neotoma lepida and Dipsosaurus dorsalis which are both capable of sustaining themselves on this desert bush. In 2013, Magnanou et al helped identify heightened transcription of genes correlated with digestion of creosote in N. lepida. Building upon their findings, we explore whether the genes for digesting creosote are under an elevated evolutionary rate for D. dorsalis. We have obtained transcriptomes from whole blood of four Iguaninae species: Ctenosaura pectinata, D. dorsalis, Sauromalus ater, Cyclura lewisi yielding an average of 4 GB of DNA sequence data (~51,000,000 fragments) each. Using Velvet in Sequencher we assembled these data, recovering greater than 6000 unique RNA transcripts per transcriptome. We search through the contigs to identify genes in Iguaninae transcriptomes that are homologous to those showing differential expression in Lepida. Using BLAST, we retrieve homologous genes from the public NCBI database of Anolis carolinensis and other reptiles. Lastly we construct phylogenetic trees of each gene and investigate the rate of change along each reptile lineage.