Open Access Research article

Genomic arrangement of salinity tolerance QTLs in salmonids: A comparative analysis of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) with Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Joseph D Norman1*, Mike Robinson12, Brian Glebe3, Moira M Ferguson1 and Roy G Danzmann1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada

2 Golder Associates Ltd, 102, 2535 – 3rd Avenue S.E, Calgary, AB T2A 7W5, Canada

3 Department of Fisheries and Oceans, St. Andrews Biological Station, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, E5B 2L9, Canada

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:420  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-420

Published: 24 August 2012



Quantitative trait locus (QTL) studies show that variation in salinity tolerance in Arctic charr and rainbow trout has a genetic basis, even though both these species have low to moderate salinity tolerance capacities. QTL were observed to localize to homologous linkage group segments within putative chromosomal regions possessing multiple candidate genes. We compared salinity tolerance QTL in rainbow trout and Arctic charr to those detected in a higher salinity tolerant species, Atlantic salmon. The highly derived karyotype of Atlantic salmon allows for the assessment of whether disparity in salinity tolerance in salmonids is associated with differences in genetic architecture. To facilitate these comparisons, we examined the genomic synteny patterns of key candidate genes in the other model teleost fishes that have experienced three whole-genome duplication (3R) events which preceded a fourth (4R) whole genome duplication event common to all salmonid species.


Nine linkage groups contained chromosome-wide significant QTL (AS-2, -4p, -4q, -5, -9, -12p, -12q, -14q -17q, -22, and −23), while a single genome-wide significant QTL was located on AS-4q. Salmonid genomes shared the greatest marker homology with the genome of three-spined stickleback. All linkage group arms in Atlantic salmon were syntenic with at least one stickleback chromosome, while 18 arms had multiple affinities. Arm fusions in Atlantic salmon were often between multiple regions bearing salinity tolerance QTL. Nine linkage groups in Arctic charr and six linkage group arms in rainbow trout currently have no synteny alignments with stickleback chromosomes, while eight rainbow trout linkage group arms were syntenic with multiple stickleback chromosomes. Rearrangements in the stickleback lineage involving fusions of ancestral arm segments could account for the 21 chromosome pairs observed in the stickleback karyotype.


Salinity tolerance in salmonids from three genera is to some extent controlled by the same loci. Synteny between QTL in salmonids and candidate genes in stickleback suggests genetic variation at candidate gene loci could affect salinity tolerance in all three salmonids investigated. Candidate genes often occur in pairs on chromosomes, and synteny patterns indicate these pairs are generally conserved in 2R, 3R, and 4R genomes. Synteny maps also suggest that the Atlantic salmon genome contains three larger syntenic combinations of candidate genes that are not evident in any of the other 2R, 3R, or 4R genomes examined. These larger synteny tracts appear to have resulted from ancestral arm fusions that occurred in the Atlantic salmon ancestor. We hypothesize that the superior hypo-osmoregulatory efficiency that is characteristic of Atlantic salmon may be related to these clusters.

Atlantic salmon; Arctic charr; Rainbow trout; Salinity tolerance; Genome rearrangements; Whole-genome duplications; Genome synteny; Candidate genes; Teleost fishes