The assembled and annotated genome of the pigeon louse Columbicola columbae, a model ectoparasite

James G. Baldwin-Brown, Scott M. Villa, Anna I. Vickrey, Kevin P. Johnson, Sarah E. Bush, Dale H. Clayton, Michael D. Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The pigeon louse Columbicola columbae is a longstanding and important model for studies of ectoparasitism and host-parasite coevolution. However, a deeper understanding of its evolution and capacity for rapid adaptation is limited by a lack of genomic resources. Here, we present a high-quality draft assembly of the C. columbae genome, produced using a combination of Oxford Nanopore, Illumina, and Hi-C technologies. The final assembly is 208 Mb in length, with 12 chromosome-size scaffolds representing 98.1% of the assembly. For gene model prediction, we used a novel clustering method (wavy_choose) for Oxford Nanopore RNA-seq reads to feed into the MAKER annotation pipeline. High recovery of conserved single-copy orthologs (BUSCOs) suggests that our assembly and annotation are both highly complete and highly accurate. Consistent with the results of the only other assembled louse genome, Pediculus humanus, we find that C. columbae has a relatively low density of repetitive elements, the majority of which are DNA transposons. Also similar to P. humanus, we find a reduced number of genes encoding opsins, G protein-coupled receptors, odorant receptors, insulin signaling pathway components, and detoxification proteins in the C. columbae genome, relative to other insects. We propose that such losses might characterize the genomes of obligate, permanent ectoparasites with predictable habitats, limited foraging complexity, and simple dietary regimes. The sequencing and analysis for this genome were relatively low cost, and took advantage of a new clustering technique for Oxford Nanopore RNAseq reads that will be useful to future genome projects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberjkab009
JournalG3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Ectoparasitism
  • Genome annotation
  • Genome assembly
  • Insect genomics
  • Ischnocera
  • Phthiraptera

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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