Background: Sex determination mechanisms in teleost fish broadly differ from mammals and birds, with sex chromosomes that are far less differentiated and recombination often occurring along the length of the X and Y chromosomes, posing major challenges for the identification of specific sex determination genes. Here, we take an innovative approach of comparative genome analysis of the genomic sequences of the X chromosome and newly sequenced Y chromosome in the channel catfish.
Results: Using a YY channel catfish as the sequencing template, we generated, assembled, and annotated the Y genome sequence of channel catfish. The genome sequence assembly had a contig N50 size of 2.7 Mb and a scaffold N50 size of 26.7 Mb. Genetic linkage and GWAS analyses placed the sex determination locus within a genetic distance less than 0.5 cM and physical distance of 8.9 Mb. However, comparison of the channel catfish X and Y chromosome sequences showed no sex-specific genes. Instead, comparative RNA-Seq analysis between females and males revealed exclusive sex-specific expression of an isoform of the breast cancer anti-resistance 1 (BCAR1) gene in the male during early sex differentiation. Experimental knockout of BCAR1 gene converted genetic males (XY) to phenotypic females, suggesting BCAR1 as a putative sex determination gene.
Conclusions: We present the first Y chromosome sequence among teleost fish, and one of the few whole Y chromosome sequences among vertebrate species. Comparative analyses suggest that sex-specific isoform expression through alternative splicing may underlie sex determination processes in the channel catfish, and we identify BCAR1 as a potential sex determination gene.
Keywords: Catfish; PacBio; RNA-Seq; Sex determination; Y chromosome.