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Open Access Research article

Characterization of the transcriptome and temperature-induced differential gene expression in QPX, the thraustochytrid parasite of hard clams

Ewelina Rubin1, Arnaud Tanguy2, Mickael Perrigault1, Emmanuelle Pales Espinosa1 and Bassem Allam1*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5000, USA

2 UPMC Université Paris 6, UMR 7144, Equipe Génétique et Adaptation en Milieu Extrême, Station Biologique de Roscoff, 29682 Roscoff, France

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:245  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-245

Published: 28 March 2014

Abstract

Background

The hard clam or northern quahog, Mercenaria mercenaria, is one of the most valuable seafood products in the United States representing the first marine resource in some Northeastern states. Severe episodes of hard clam mortality have been consistently associated with infections caused by a thraustochytrid parasite called Quahog Parasite Unknown (QPX). QPX is considered as a cold/temperate water organism since the disease occurs only in the coastal waters of the northwestern Atlantic Ocean from Maritime Canada to Virginia. High disease development at cold temperatures was also confirmed in laboratory studies and is thought to be caused predominantly by immunosuppression of the clam host even though the effect of temperature on QPX virulence has not been fully investigated. In this study, the QPX transcriptome was sequenced using Roche 454 technology to better characterize this microbe and initiate research on the molecular basis of QPX virulence towards hard clams.

Results

Close to 18,000 transcriptomic sequences were generated and functionally annotated. Results revealed a wide array of QPX putative virulence factors including a variety of peptidases, antioxidant enzymes, and proteins involved in extracellular mucus production and other secretory proteins potentially involved in interactions with the clam host. Furthermore, a 15 K oligonucleotide array was constructed and used to investigate the effect of temperature on QPX fitness and virulence factors. Results identified a set of QPX molecular chaperones that could explain its adaptation to cold temperatures. Finally, several virulence-related factors were up-regulated at low temperature providing molecular targets for further investigations of increased QPX pathogenicity in cold water conditions.

Conclusions

This is one of the first studies to characterize the transcriptome of a parasitic labyrinthulid, offering new insights into the molecular bases of the pathogenicity of members of this group. Results from the oligoarray study demonstrated the ability of QPX to cope with a wide range of environmental temperatures, including those considered to be suboptimal for clam immunity (low temperature) providing a mechanistic scenario for disease distribution in the field and for high disease prevalence and intensity at low temperature. These results will serve as basis for studies aimed at a better characterization of specific putative virulence factors.

Keywords:
Quahog Parasite Unknown (QPX); Virulence factors; Oligoarrays; Gene expression