Genome analysis and signature discovery for diving and sensory properties of the endangered Chinese alligator

Cell Res. 2013 Sep;23(9):1091-105. doi: 10.1038/cr.2013.104. Epub 2013 Aug 6.


Crocodilians are diving reptiles that can hold their breath under water for long periods of time and are crepuscular animals with excellent sensory abilities. They comprise a sister lineage of birds and have no sex chromosome. Here we report the genome sequence of the endangered Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis) and describe its unique features. The next-generation sequencing generated 314 Gb of raw sequence, yielding a genome size of 2.3 Gb. A total of 22 200 genes were predicted in Alligator sinensis using a de novo, homology- and RNA-based combined model. The genetic basis of long-diving behavior includes duplication of the bicarbonate-binding hemoglobin gene, co-functioning of routine phosphate-binding and special bicarbonate-binding oxygen transport, and positively selected energy metabolism, ammonium bicarbonate excretion and cardiac muscle contraction. Further, we elucidated the robust Alligator sinensis sensory system, including a significantly expanded olfactory receptor repertoire, rapidly evolving nerve-related cellular components and visual perception, and positive selection of the night vision-related opsin and sound detection-associated otopetrin. We also discovered a well-developed immune system with a considerable number of lineage-specific antigen-presentation genes for adaptive immunity as well as expansion of the tripartite motif-containing C-type lectin and butyrophilin genes for innate immunity and expression of antibacterial peptides. Multifluorescence in situ hybridization showed that alligator chromosome 3, which encodes DMRT1, exhibits significant synteny with chicken chromosome Z. Finally, population history analysis indicated population admixture 0.60-1.05 million years ago, when the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau was uplifted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alligators and Crocodiles / classification
  • Alligators and Crocodiles / genetics*
  • Alligators and Crocodiles / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Base Composition / genetics
  • Base Sequence
  • Bicarbonates / metabolism
  • Biological Transport / genetics
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics
  • Energy Metabolism / genetics
  • Genome / genetics*
  • Hemoglobins / genetics
  • Immune System
  • Muscle Contraction / genetics
  • Night Vision / genetics
  • Olfactory Pathways / cytology
  • Opsins / genetics
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Sex Determination Processes / genetics
  • Smell / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Visual Perception / genetics


  • Bicarbonates
  • DMRT1 protein
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Hemoglobins
  • Opsins
  • Transcription Factors
  • ammonium bicarbonate
  • Oxygen