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Open Access Research article

Co-expressed mitochondrial genomes: recently masculinized, recombinant mitochondrial genome is co-expressed with the female – transmitted mtDNA genome in a male Mytilus trossulus mussel from the Baltic Sea

Tomasz J Sańko* and Artur Burzyński

Author Affiliations

Genetics and Marine Biotechnology Department, Institute of Oceanology of Polish Academy of Sciences, Powstańców Warszawy 55, Sopot 81-712, Poland

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BMC Genetics 2014, 15:28  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-15-28

Published: 28 February 2014



Few exceptions have been described from strict maternal inheritance of mitochondrial DNA in animals, including sea mussels (Mytilidae), clams (Donacidae, Veneridae and Solenidae) and freshwater mussels (Unionoidae) order. In these bivalves mitochondria and their DNA are transferred through two separate routes. The females inherit only the maternal mitochondrial DNA whereas the males inherit maternal as well as paternal mitochondrial DNA, which is usually present only in gonads and sperm. The mechanism controlling this phenomenon is unclear but leads to the existence of two separate mitochondrial DNA lineages in a single species. The lineages are usually well differentiated: up to 20-50% divergence in nucleotide sequence. Occasionally, a maternal mitochondrial DNA can invade the paternal transmission route, eventually replacing the diverged M-type and lowering the divergence. Such role reversal (masculinization) event has happened recently in the Mytilus population of the Baltic Sea which consists of M. edulis × M. trossulus hybrids, but the functional status of the resulting mitochondrial genome was unknown.


In this paper we sequenced transcripts from one specimen that was identified as male carrying both the female mitochondrial genome and a recently masculinized mitochondrial genome. Additionally, the analysis of the control region has showed that the recently masculinized, recombinant genome, not only has an M-type control region and all coding regions derived from the F-type, but also is transcriptionally active along side the maternally inherited F-type genome. In the comparative analysis, the two genomes exhibit different substitution patterns, typical for the M vs. F genome comparisons. The genetic distances and ratios of non-synonymous substitutions also suggest that one of the genomes is transitioning from the maternal to the paternal inheritance mode, consistent with its recent masculinization.


We have shown, for the first time, that the recently masculinized mitochondrial genome is active and that it accumulates excess of non-synonymous substitutions across its coding sequence. This suggests, that, under certain cytonuclear incompatibility conditions, masculinization may serve to restore the endangered functionality of the paternally inherited genome. This is also another example of a mitochondrial genome in which the recombination in the control region predated its transition from paternal to maternal transmission route.

Transcriptomics; EST; Masculinization; Paternally inherited mtDNA; DUI; Doubly uniparental inheritance; mtDNA inheritance