Differential timing of gene expression regulation between leptocephali of North Atlantic eels in the Sargasso Sea

Louis Bernatchez, Jérôme Saint-Cyr, Gregory E. Maes, S. Kalujnaia, Gordon Cramb, Martin Castonguay, Thomas Damm Als, Michael Møller Hansen

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The unique life-history characteristics of North Atlantic catadromous eels have
long intrigued evolutionary biologists, especially with respect to mechanisms that
could explain their persistence as two ecologically very similar but reproductively
and geographically distinct species. Differential developmental schedules during
young larval stages have commonly been hypothesized to represent such a key
mechanism. We performed a comparative analysis of gene expression by means of microarray experiments with American and European eel leptocephali collected in the Sargasso Sea in order to test the alternative hypotheses of (1) differential timing of gene expression regulation during early development versus (2) species-specific differences in expression of particular genes. Our results provide much stronger support for the former hypothesis since no gene showed consistent significant differences in expression levels between the two species. In contrast, 146 genes showed differential timings of expression between species, although the observed expression level differences between the species were generally small. Consequently, species-specific gene expression regulation seems to play a minor role in species differentiation. Overall, these results show that the basis of the early developmental divergence between the American and European eel is probably influenced by differences in the timing of gene expression regulation for genes involved in a large array of biological functions
Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)459-467
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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