Background: Bluefin tunas are highly prized pelagic fish species representing a significant economic resource to fisheries throughout the world. Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) populations have significantly declined due to overexploitation. As a consequence of their value and population decline, T. thynnus has been the focus of considerable research effort concerning many aspects of their life history. However, in-depth understanding of T. thynnus reproductive biology is still lacking. Knowledge of reproductive physiology is a very important tool for determining effective fisheries and aquaculture management. Transcriptome techniques are proving powerful and provide novel insights into physiological processes. Construction of a microarray from T. thynnus ESTs sourced from reproductive tissues has provided an ideal platform to study the reproductive physiology of bluefin tunas. The aim of this investigation was to compare transcription profiles from the ovaries and testes of mature T. thynnus to establish sex specific variations underlying their reproductive physiology.
Results: Male and females T. thynnus gonad tissues were collected from the wild and histologically staged. Sub-samples of sexually mature tissues were also measured for their mRNA differential expression among the sexes using the custom microarray design BFT 4X44K. A total of 7068 ESTs were assessed for differential expression of which 1273 ESTs were significantly different (p<0.05) with >2 fold change in expression according to sex. Differential expression for 13 of these ESTs was validated with quantitative PCR. These include genes involved in egg envelope formation, hydration, and lipid transport/accumulation more highly expressed in ovaries compared with testis, while genes involved in meiosis, sperm motility and lipid metabolism were more highly expressed in testis compared with ovaries.
Conclusions: This investigation has furthered our knowledge of bluefin tunas reproductive biology by using a contemporary transcriptome approach. Gene expression profiles in T. thynnus sexually mature testes and ovaries were characterized with reference to gametogenesis and potential alternative functions. This report is the first application of microarray technology for bluefin tunas and demonstrates the efficacy by which this technique may be used for further characterization of specific biological aspects for this valuable teleost fish.