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The extremely divergent maternally- and paternally-transmitted mitochondrial genomes are co-expressed in somatic tissues of two freshwater mussel species with doubly uniparental inheritance of mtDNA

September 19, 2017

Freshwater mussel species with doubly uniparental inheritance (DUI) of mtDNA are unique because they are naturally heteroplasmic for two extremely divergent mtDNAs with ~50% amino acid differences for protein-coding genes. The paternally-transmitted mtDNA (or M mtDNA) clearly functions in sperm in these species, but it is still unknown whether it is transcribed when present in male or female soma. In the present study, we used PCR and RT-PCR to detect the presence and expression of the M mtDNA in male and female somatic and gonadal tissues of the freshwater mussel species Venustaconcha ellipsiformis and Utterbackia peninsularis (Unionidae). This is the first study demonstrating that the M mtDNA is transcribed not only in male gonads, but also in male and female soma in freshwater mussels with DUI. Because of the potentially deleterious nature of heteroplasmy, we suggest the existence of different mechanisms in DUI species to deal with this possibly harmful situation, such as silencing mechanisms for the M mtDNA at the transcriptional, post-transcriptional and/or post-translational levels. These hypotheses will necessitate additional studies in distantly-related DUI species that could possess different mechanisms of action to deal with heteroplasmy.