Background: Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) is a high-value, niche market species for cold-water marine aquaculture. Production of monosex female stocks is desirable in commercial production since females grow faster and mature later than males. Understanding the sex determination mechanism and developing sex-associated markers will shorten the time for the development of monosex female production, thus decreasing the costs of farming.
Results: Halibut juveniles were masculinised with 17 α-methyldihydrotestosterone (MDHT) and grown to maturity. Progeny groups from four treated males were reared and sexed. Two of these groups (n = 26 and 70) consisted of only females, while the other two (n = 30 and 71) contained balanced sex ratios (50% and 48% females respectively). DNA from parents and offspring from the two mixed-sex families were used as a template for Restriction-site Associated DNA (RAD) sequencing. The 648 million raw reads produced 90,105 unique RAD-tags. A linkage map was constructed based on 5703 Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) markers and 7 microsatellites consisting of 24 linkage groups, which corresponds to the number of chromosome pairs in this species. A major sex determining locus was mapped to linkage group 13 in both families. Assays for 10 SNPs with significant association with phenotypic sex were tested in both population data and in 3 additional families. Using a variety of machine-learning algorithms 97% correct classification could be obtained with the 3% of errors being phenotypic males predicted to be females.
Conclusion: Altogether our findings support the hypothesis that the Atlantic halibut has an XX/XY sex determination system. Assays are described for sex-associated DNA markers developed from the RAD sequencing analysis to fast track progeny testing and implement monosex female halibut production for an immediate improvement in productivity. These should also help to speed up the inclusion of neomales derived from many families to maintain a larger effective population size and ensure long-term improvement through selective breeding.