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Insights into the role of differential gene expression on the ecological adaptation of the snail Littorina saxatilis

Author(s): Martínez-Fernández Mónica | Bernatchez Louis | Rolán-Alvarez Emilio | Quesada Humberto

Journal: BMC Evolutionary Biology
ISSN 1471-2148

Volume: 10;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 356;
Date: 2010;
Original page

Abstract Background In the past 40 years, there has been increasing acceptance that variation in levels of gene expression represents a major source of evolutionary novelty. Gene expression divergence is therefore likely to be involved in the emergence of incipient species, namely, in a context of adaptive radiation. In this study, a genome-wide expression profiling approach (cDNA-AFLP), validated by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) were used to get insights into the role of differential gene expression on the ecological adaptation of the marine snail Littorina saxatilis. This gastropod displays two sympatric ecotypes (RB and SU) which are becoming one of the best studied systems for ecological speciation. Results Among the 99 transcripts shared between ecotypes, 12.12% showed significant differential expression. At least 4% of these transcripts still displayed significant differences after correction for multiple tests, highlighting that gene expression can differ considerably between subpopulations adapted to alternative habitats in the face of gene flow. One of the transcripts identified was Cytochrome c Oxidase subunit I (COI). In addition, 6 possible reference genes were validated to normalize and confirm this result using qPCR. α-Tubulin and histone H3.3 showed the more stable expression levels, being therefore chosen as the best option for normalization. The qPCR analysis confirmed a higher COI expression in SU individuals. Conclusions At least 4% of the transcriptome studied is being differentially expressed between ecotypes living in alternative habitats, even when gene flow is still substantial between ecotypes. We could identify a candidate transcript of such ecotype differentiation: Cytochrome c Oxidase Subunit I (COI), a mitochondrial gene involved in energy metabolism. Quantitative PCR was used to confirm the differences found in COI and its over-expression in the SU ecotype. Interestingly, COI is involved in the oxidative phosphorylation, suggesting an enhanced mitochondrial gene expression (or increased number of mitochondria) to improve energy supply in the ecotype subjected to the strongest wave action.
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