Interspecific Differential Expression Analysis of RNA-Seq Data Yields Insight into Life Cycle Variation in Hydractiniid Hydrozoans

Genome Biol Evol. 2015 Aug 6;7(8):2417-31. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evv153.


Hydrozoans are known for their complex life cycles, which can alternate between an asexually reproducing polyp stage and a sexually reproducing medusa stage. Most hydrozoan species, however, lack a free-living medusa stage and instead display a developmentally truncated form, called a medusoid or sporosac, which generally remains attached to the polyp. Although evolutionary transitions in medusa truncation and loss have been investigated phylogenetically, little is known about the genes involved in the development and loss of this life cycle stage. Here, we present a new workflow for evaluating differential expression (DE) between two species using short read Illumina RNA-seq data. Through interspecific DE analyses between two hydractiniid hydrozoans, Hydractinia symbiolongicarpus and Podocoryna carnea, we identified genes potentially involved in the developmental, functional, and morphological differences between the fully developed medusa of P. carnea and reduced sporosac of H. symbiolongicarpus. A total of 10,909 putative orthologs of H. symbiolongicarpus and P. carnea were identified from de novo assemblies of short read Illumina data. DE analysis revealed 938 of these are differentially expressed between P. carnea developing and adult medusa, when compared with H. symbiolongicarpus sporosacs, the majority of which have not been previously characterized in cnidarians. In addition, several genes with no corresponding ortholog in H. symbiolongicarpus were expressed in developing medusa of P. carnea. Results presented here show interspecific DE analyses of RNA-seq data to be a sensitive and reliable method for identifying genes and gene pathways potentially involved in morphological and life cycle differences between species.

Keywords: Cnidaria; Hydrozoa; RNA-Seq; comparative expression; differential expression; transcriptomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Hydrozoa / genetics*
  • Hydrozoa / growth & development
  • Hydrozoa / metabolism
  • Life Cycle Stages / genetics*
  • Molecular Sequence Annotation
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA / methods*

Associated data

  • SRA/SRP038762
  • SRA/SRP041583