Numerous organisms around the globe have successfully adapted to subterranean environments. A powerful system in which to study cave adaptation is the freshwater characin fish, Astyanax mexicanus. Prior studies in this system have established a genetic basis for the evolution of numerous regressive traits, most notably vision and pigmentation reduction. However, identification of the precise genetic alterations that underlie these morphological changes has been delayed by limited genetic and genomic resources. To address this, we performed a transcriptome analysis of cave and surface dwelling Astyanax morphs using Roche/454 pyrosequencing technology. Through this approach, we obtained 576,197 Pachón cavefish-specific reads and 438,978 surface fish-specific reads. Using this dataset, we assembled transcriptomes of cave and surface fish separately, as well as an integrated transcriptome that combined 1,499,568 reads from both morphotypes. The integrated assembly was the most successful approach, yielding 22,596 high quality contiguous sequences comprising a total transcriptome length of 21,363,556 bp. Sequence identities were obtained through exhaustive blast searches, revealing an adult transcriptome represented by highly diverse Gene Ontology (GO) terms. Our dataset facilitated rapid identification of sequence polymorphisms between morphotypes. These data, along with positional information collected from the Danio rerio genome, revealed several syntenic regions between Astyanax and Danio. We demonstrated the utility of this positional information through a QTL analysis of albinism in a surface x Pachón cave F(2) pedigree, using 65 polymorphic markers identified from our integrated assembly. We also adapted our dataset for an RNA-seq study, revealing many genes responsible for visual system maintenance in surface fish, whose expression was not detected in adult Pachón cavefish. Conversely, several metabolism-related genes expressed in cavefish were not detected in surface fish. This resource will enable powerful genetic and genomic analyses in the future that will better clarify the heritable genetic changes governing adaptation to the cave environment.
Gross, J. B., Furterer, A., Carlson, B. M., & Stahl, B. A. (2013). An Integrated Transcriptome-Wide Analysis of Cave and Surface Dwelling Astyanax mexicanus. PLoS ONE, 8(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0055659