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Killifishes, Gene expression, Diapause


Background: Genotype and environment can interact during development to produce novel adaptive traits that support life in extreme conditions. The development of the annual killifsh Austrofundulus limnaeus is unique among vertebrates because the embryos have distinct cell movements that separate epiboly from axis formation during early development, can enter into a state of metabolic dormancy known as diapause and can survive extreme environmental conditions. The ability to enter into diapause can be maternally programmed, with young females producing embryos that do not enter into diapause. Alternately, embryos can be programmed to “escape” from diapause and develop directly by both maternal factors and embryonic incubation conditions. Thus, maternally packaged gene products are hypothesized to regulate developmental trajectory and perhaps the other unique developmental characters in this species.

Results: Using high-throughput RNA sequencing, we generated transcriptomic profles of mRNAs, long non-coding RNAs and small non-coding RNAs (sncRNAs) in 1–2 cell stage embryos of A. limnaeus. Transcriptomic analyses suggest maternal programming of embryos through alternatively spliced mRNAs and antisense sncRNAs. Comparison of these results to those of comparable studies on zebrafsh and other fshes reveals a surprisingly high abundance of transcripts involved in the cellular response to stress and a relatively lower expression of genes required for rapid transition through the cell cycle.

Conclusions: Maternal programming of developmental trajectory is unlikely accomplished by diferential expression of diapause-specifc genes. Rather, evidence suggests a role for trajectory-specifc splice variants of genes expressed in both phenotypes. In addition, based on comparative studies with zebrafsh, the A. limnaeus 1–2 cell stage transcriptome is unique in ways that are consistent with their unique life history. These results not only impact our understanding of the genetic mechanisms that regulate entrance into diapause, but also provide insight into the epigenetic regulation of gene expression during development


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