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Deciphering the link between doubly uniparental inheritance of mtDNA and sex determination in bivalves: Clues from comparative transcriptomics

February 1, 2018

Bivalves exhibit an astonishing diversity of sexual systems and sex-determining mechanisms. They can be gonochoric, hermaphroditic or androgenetic, with both genetic and environmental factors known to determine or influence sex. One unique sex-determining system involving the mitochondrial genome has also been hypothesized to exist in bivalves with doubly uniparental inheritance (DUI) of mtDNA. However, the link between DUI and sex determination remains obscure. In this study, we performed a comparative gonad transcriptomics analysis for two DUI-possessing freshwater mussel species to better understand the mechanisms underlying sex determination and DUI in these bivalves. We used a BLAST reciprocal analysis to identify orthologs between Venustaconcha ellipsiformis and Utterbackia peninsularis and compared our results with previously published sex-specific bivalve transcriptomes to identify conserved sex-determining genes. We also compared our data with other DUI species to identify candidate genes possibly involved in the regulation of DUI. A total of ∼12,000 orthologous relationships were found, with 2,583 genes differentially expressed in both species. Among these genes, key sex-determining factors previously reported in vertebrates and in bivalves (e.g., Sry, Dmrt1, Foxl2) were identified, suggesting that some steps of the sex-determination pathway may be deeply conserved in metazoans. Our results also support the hypothesis that a modified ubiquitination mechanism could be responsible for the retention of the paternal mtDNA in male bivalves, and revealed that DNA methylation could also be involved in the regulation of DUI. Globally, our results suggest that sets of genes associated with sex determination and DUI are similar in distantly-related DUI species.