Open Access Research article

Using RNA sequencing to characterize female reproductive genes between Z and E Strains of European Corn Borer moth (Ostrinia nubilalis)

Nooria Al-Wathiqui*, Sara M Lewis and Erik B Dopman*

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, USA

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:189  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-189

Published: 12 March 2014



Reproductive proteins often evolve rapidly and are thought to be subject to strong sexual selection, and thus may play a key role in reproductive isolation and species divergence. However, our knowledge of reproductive proteins has been largely limited to males and model organisms with sequenced genomes. With advances in sequencing technology, Lepidoptera are emerging models for studies of sexual selection and speciation. By profiling the transcriptomes of the bursa copulatrix and bursal gland from females of two incipient species of moth, we characterize reproductive genes expressed in the primary reproductive tissues of female Lepidoptera and identify candidate genes contributing to a one-way gametic incompatibility between Z and E strains of the European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis).


Using RNA sequencing we identified transcripts from ~37,000 and ~36,000 loci that were expressed in the bursa copulatrix or the bursal gland respectively. Of bursa copulatrix genes, 8% were significantly differentially expressed compared to the female thorax, and those that were up-regulated or specific to the bursa copulatrix showed functional biases toward muscle activity and/or organization. In the bursal gland, 9% of genes were differentially expressed compared to the thorax, with many showing reproduction or gamete production functions. Of up-regulated bursal gland genes, 46% contained a transmembrane region and 16% possessed secretion signal peptides. Divergently expressed genes in the bursa copulatrix were exclusively biased toward protease-like functions and 51 proteases or protease inhibitors were divergently expressed overall.


This is the first comprehensive characterization of female reproductive genes in any lepidopteran system. The transcriptome of the bursa copulatrix supports its role as a muscular sac that is the primary site for disruption of the male ejaculate. We find that the bursal gland acts as a reproductive secretory body that might also interact with male ejaculate. In addition, differential expression of proteases between strains supports a potential role for these tissues in contributing to reproductive isolation. Our study provides new insight into how male ejaculate is processed by female Lepidoptera, and paves the way for future work on interactions between post-mating sexual selection and speciation.

Female reproductive genes; Speciation; Next-generation sequencing; Lepidoptera