Open Access Research article

Gonad transcriptome analysis of pearl oyster Pinctada margaritifera: identification of potential sex differentiation and sex determining genes

Vaihiti Teaniniuraitemoana1, Arnaud Huvet2, Peva Levy1, Christophe Klopp3, Emeline Lhuillier46, Nabila Gaertner-Mazouni5, Yannick Gueguen1 and Gilles Le Moullac1*

Author Affiliations

1 Ifremer, UMR 241 EIO, Labex CORAIL, BP 7004, 98719 Taravao, Tahiti, Polynésie Française

2 Ifremer, UMR 6539 LEMAR, BP 70, 29280 Plouzané, France

3 INRA, Sigenae, UR875, Auzeville, BP 52627, 31326 Castanet-Tolosan, France

4 GeT-PlaGe, Genotoul, INRA Auzeville, 31326 Castanet-Tolosan, France

5 Université de la Polynésie Française, UMR 241 EIO, Labex CORAIL, BP 6570, 98702 Faa’a, Tahiti, Polynésie Française

6 Present address : GeT-Purpan, GenoToul, UDEAR UMR 1065 CNRS/UPS/U1056 INSERM, CHU PURPAN, Place du Dr Baylac, TSA 40031, 31059 Toulouse Cedex 9, France

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:491  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-491

Published: 18 June 2014



Black pearl farming is based on culture of the blacklip pearl oyster Pinctada margaritifera (Mollusca, lophotrochozoa), a protandrous hermaphrodite species. At first maturation, all individuals are males. The female sex appears progressively from two years old, which represents a limitation for broodstock conditioning for aquaculture production. In marine mollusks displaying hermaphroditic features, data on sexual determinism and differentiation, including the molecular sex determining cascade, are scarce. To increase genomic resources and identify the molecular mechanisms whereby gene expression may act in the sexual dimorphism of P. margaritifera, we performed gonad transcriptome analysis.


The gonad transcriptome of P. margaritifera was sequenced from several gonadic samples of males and females at different development stages, using a Next-Generation-Sequencing method and RNAseq technology. After Illumina sequencing, assembly and annotation, we obtained 70,147 contigs of which 62.2% shared homologies with existing protein sequences, and 9% showed functional annotation with Gene Ontology terms. Differential expression analysis identified 1,993 differentially expressed contigs between the different categories of gonads. Clustering methods of samples revealed that the sex explained most of the variation in gonad gene expression. K-means clustering of differentially expressed contigs showed 815 and 574 contigs were more expressed in male and female gonads, respectively. The analysis of these contigs revealed the presence of known specific genes coding for proteins involved in sex determinism and/or differentiation, such as dmrt and fem-1 like for males, or foxl2 and vitellogenin for females. The specific gene expression profiles of pmarg-fem1-like, pmarg-dmrt and pmarg-foxl2 in different reproductive stages (undetermined, sexual inversion and regression) suggest that these three genes are potentially involved in the sperm-oocyte switch in P. margaritifera.


The study provides a new transcriptomic tool to study reproduction in hermaphroditic marine mollusks. It identifies sex differentiation and potential sex determining genes in P. margaritifera, a protandrous hermaphrodite species.

Pinctada margaritifera; Gametogenesis; Transcriptome; Differential expression; Sex determinism