Open Access Research article

Differential gene expression during the moult cycle of Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba)

Paul J Seear1*, Geraint A Tarling1, Gavin Burns1, William P Goodall-Copestake1, Edward Gaten2, Özge Özkaya3 and Ezio Rosato3

Author Affiliations

1 British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0ET, UK

2 Department of Biology, University of Leicester, University Road, LE1 7RH, UK

3 Department of Genetics, University of Leicester, University Road, LE1 7RH, UK

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:582  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-582

Published: 19 October 2010



All crustaceans periodically moult to renew their exoskeleton. In krill this involves partial digestion and resorption of the old exoskeleton and synthesis of new cuticle. Molecular events that underlie the moult cycle are poorly understood in calcifying crustaceans and even less so in non-calcifying organisms such as krill. To address this we constructed an Antarctic krill cDNA microarray in order to generate gene expression profiles across the moult cycle and identify possible activation pathways.


A total of 26 different cuticle genes were identified that showed differential gene expression across the moult cycle. Almost all cuticle genes were up regulated during premoult and down regulated during late intermoult. There were a number of transcripts with significant sequence homology to genes potentially involved in the synthesis, breakdown and resorption of chitin. During early premoult glutamine synthetase, a gene involved in generating an amino acid used in the synthesis of glucosamine, a constituent of chitin, was up regulated more than twofold. Mannosyltransferase 1, a member of the glycosyltransferase family of enzymes that includes chitin synthase was also up regulated during early premoult. Transcripts homologous to a β-N-acetylglucosaminidase (β-NAGase) precursor were expressed at a higher level during late intermoult (prior to apolysis) than during premoult. This observation coincided with the up regulation during late intermoult, of a coatomer subunit epsilon involved in the production of vesicles that maybe used to transport the β-NAGase precursors into the exuvial cleft. Trypsin, known to activate the β-NAGase precursor, was up regulated more than fourfold during premoult. The up regulation of a predicted oligopeptide transporter during premoult may allow the transport of chitin breakdown products across the newly synthesised epi- and exocuticle layers.


We have identified many genes differentially expressed across the moult cycle of krill that correspond with known phenotypic structural changes. This study has provided a better understanding of the processes involved in krill moulting and how they may be controlled at the gene expression level.