Genetic studies of human-chimpanzee divergence using stem cell fusions

Song JH, Grant RL, Behrens VC, Kucka M, Roberts Kingman GA, Soltys V, Chan YF, Kingsley DM.
Preprint from
24 September 2021
Complete genome sequencing has identified millions of DNA changes that differ between humans and chimpanzees. Although a subset of these changes likely underlies important phenotypic differences between humans and chimpanzees, it is currently difficult to distinguish causal from incidental changes and to map specific phenotypes to particular genome locations. To facilitate further genetic study of human-chimpanzee divergence, we have generated human and chimpanzee auto-tetraploids and allo-tetraploids by fusing induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) of each species. The resulting tetraploid iPSCs can be stably maintained and retain the ability to differentiate along ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm lineages. RNA sequencing identifies thousands of genes whose expression differs between humans and chimpanzees when assessed in single-species diploid or auto-tetraploid iPSCs. Analysis of gene expression patterns in inter-specific allo-tetraploid iPSCs shows that human-chimpanzee expression differences arise from substantial contributions of both cis -acting changes linked to the genes themselves, and trans -acting changes elsewhere in the genome. To enable further genetic mapping of species differences, we tested chemical treatments for stimulating genome-wide mitotic recombination between human and chimpanzee chromosomes, and CRISPR methods for inducing species-specific changes on particular chromosomes in allo-tetraploid cells. We successfully generated derivative cells with nested deletions or inter-specific recombination on the X chromosome. These studies identify a long distance cis -regulatory domain of the Fragile X-associated gene ( FMR1 ), confirm an important role for the X chromosome in trans-regulation of other expression differences, and illustrate the potential of this system for more detailed mapping of the molecular basis of human and chimpanzee evolution.

Significance Statement

Comparative studies of humans and chimpanzees have revealed many anatomical, physiological, behavioral, and molecular differences. However, it has been challenging to map these differences to particular chromosome regions. Here, we develop a genetic approach in fused stem cell lines that makes it possible to map human-chimpanzee molecular and cellular differences to specific regions of the genome. We illustrate this approach by mapping chromosome regions responsible for species-specific gene expression differences in fused tetraploid cells. This approach is general, and could be used in the future to map the genomic changes that control many other humanchimpanzee differences in various cell types or organoids in vitro .