Background: Comparative genomics approaches help to shed light on evolutionary processes that shape differentiation between lineages. The nine-spined stickleback (Pungitius pungitius) is a closely related species of the ecological 'supermodel' three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). It is an emerging model system for evolutionary biology research but has garnered less attention and lacks extensive genomic resources. To expand on these resources and aid the study of sticklebacks in a phylogenetic framework, we characterized nine-spined stickleback transcriptomes from brain and liver using deep sequencing.
Results: We obtained nearly eight thousand assembled transcripts, of which 3,091 were assigned as putative one-to-one orthologs to genes found in the three-spined stickleback. These sequences were used for evaluating overall differentiation and substitution rates between nine- and three-spined sticklebacks, and to identify genes that are putatively evolving under positive selection. The synonymous substitution rate was estimated to be 7.1 × 10(-9) per site per year between the two species, and a total of 165 genes showed patterns of adaptive evolution in one or both species. A few nine-spined stickleback contigs lacked an obvious ortholog in three-spined sticklebacks but were found to match genes in other fish species, suggesting several gene losses within 13 million years since the divergence of the two stickleback species. We identified 47 SNPs in 25 different genes that differentiate pond and marine ecotypes. We also identified 468 microsatellites that could be further developed as genetic markers in nine-spined sticklebacks.
Conclusion: With deep sequencing of nine-spined stickleback cDNA libraries, our study provides a significant increase in the number of gene sequences and microsatellite markers for this species, and identifies a number of genes showing patterns of adaptive evolution between nine- and three-spined sticklebacks. We also report several candidate genes that might be involved in differential adaptation between marine and freshwater nine-spined sticklebacks. This study provides a valuable resource for future studies aiming to identify candidate genes underlying ecological adaptation in this and other stickleback species.