Pheromone Evolution, Reproductive Genes, and Comparative Transcriptomics in Mediterranean Earthworms (Annelida, Oligochaeta, Hormogastridae)

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Abstract

Animals inhabiting cryptic environments are often subjected to morphological stasis due to the lack of obvious agents driving selection, and hence chemical cues may be important drivers of sexual selection and individual recognition. Here, we provide a comparative analysis of de novo-assembled transcriptomes in two Mediterranean earthworm species with the objective to detect pheromone proteins and other reproductive genes that could be involved in cryptic speciation processes, as recently characterized in other earthworm species. cDNA libraries of unspecific tissue of Hormogaster samnitica and three different tissues of H. elisae were sequenced in an Illumina Genome Analyzer II or Hi-Seq. Two pheromones, Attractin and Temptin were detected in all tissue samples and both species. Attractin resulted in a reliable marker for phylogenetic inference. Temptin contained multiple paralogs and was slightly overexpressed in the digestive tissue, suggesting that these pheromones could be released with the casts. Genes involved in sexual determination and fertilization were highly expressed in reproductive tissue. This is thus the first detailed analysis of the molecular machinery of sexual reproduction in earthworms.

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