Open Access Open Badges Research article

Identification of maternally-loaded RNA transcripts in unfertilized eggs of Tribolium castaneum

Kevin M Preuss13*, Jacqueline A Lopez2, John K Colbourne2 and Michael J Wade1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA

2 Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA

3 Present Address: Department of Biology, Drury University, Springfield, MO, USA

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:671  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-671

Published: 27 November 2012



Maternal RNAs play a critical role in early development. Variation in the diversity and levels of maternally derived gene transcripts may be central to the origin of phenotypic novelty -- a longstanding problem in evolution and development. By studying maternal transcriptomes within and between divergent species, a better understanding of the evolutionary forces acting on maternal RNA allocation is possible.


We present the first maternal transcriptome of the red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum. Using a tiled whole-genome microarray, we found that 58.2% of T. castaneum genes are maternally loaded into eggs. Comparison of known Drosophila melanogaster maternal genes to our results showed widespread conservation of maternal expression with T. castaneum. Additionally, we found that many genes previously reported as having sex or tissue specific expression in T. castaneum were also maternally loaded. Identification of such pleiotropy is vital for proper modeling and testing of evolutionary theory using empirical data. The microarray design also allowed the detection of 2315 and 4060 novel transcriptionally active regions greater in length than 100 bp in unfertilized and fertilized T. castaneum eggs, respectively. These transcriptionally active regions represent novel exons of potentially unknown genes for future study.


Our results lay a foundation for utilizing T. castaneum as a model for understanding the role of maternal genes in evolution.

Maternal transcriptome; Maternal effects; Sexual antagonism; Whole-genome microarray