Telomeres are the complex nucleoprotein structures at the termini of linear chromosomes. Telomeric DNA consists of a highly conserved hexanucleotide arranged in tandem repeats. Telomerase, a ribonucleoprotein of the reverse transcriptase family, specifies the sequence of telomeric DNA and maintains telomere array length. Numerous studies in model organisms established the significance of telomere structure and function in regulating genome stability, cellular aging, and oncogenesis. Our overall research objectives are to understand the organization of the telomere arrays in chicken in the context of the unusual organization and specialized features of this higher vertebrate genome (which include a compact genome, numerous microchromosomes, and high recombination rate) and to elucidate the role telomeres play in genome stability impacting cell function and life span. Recent studies found that the chicken genome contains three overlapping size classes of telomere arrays that differ in location and age-related stability: Class I 0.5 to 10 kb, Class II 10 to 40 kb, and Class III 40 kb to 2 Mb. Some notable features of chicken telomere biology are that the chicken genome contains ten times more telomeric DNA than the human genome and the Class III telomere arrays are the largest described for any vertebrate species. In vivo, chicken telomeres (Class II) shorten in an age-related fashion and telomerase activity is high in early stage embryos and developing organs but down-regulates during late embryogenesis or postnatally in most somatic tissues. In vitro, chicken cells down-regulate telomerase activity unless transformed. Knowledge of chicken telomere biology contributes information relevant to present and future biotechnology applications of chickens in vivo and chicken cells in vitro.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Animal Science and Zoology