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BMC Genomics. 2009 Nov 16;10:527. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-10-527.

Target gene approaches: Gene expression in Daphnia magna exposed to predator-borne kairomones or to microcystin-producing and microcystin-free Microcystis aeruginosa.

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University of Cologne, Zoological Institute, Aquatic Chemical Ecology, 50923 Cologne, Germany.



Two major biological stressors of freshwater zooplankton of the genus Daphnia are predation and fluctuations in food quality. Here we use kairomones released from a planktivorous fish (Leucaspius delineatus) and from an invertebrate predator (larvae of Chaoborus flavicans) to simulate predation pressure; a microcystin-producing culture of the cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa and a microcystin-deficient mutant are used to investigate effects of low food quality. Real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (QPCR) allows quantification of the impact of biotic stressors on differential gene activity. The draft genome sequence for Daphnia pulex facilitates the use of candidate genes by precisely identifying orthologs to functionally characterized genes in other model species. This information is obtained by constructing phylogenetic trees of candidate genes with the knowledge that the Daphnia genome is composed of many expanded gene families.


We evaluated seven candidate reference genes for QPCR in Daphnia magna after exposure to kairomones. As a robust approach, a combination normalisation factor (NF) was calculated based on the geometric mean of three of these seven reference genes: glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase, TATA-box binding protein and succinate dehydrogenase. Using this NF, expression of the target genes actin and alpha-tubulin were revealed to be unchanged in the presence of the tested kairomones. The presence of fish kairomone up-regulated one gene (cyclophilin) involved in the folding of proteins, whereas Chaoborus kairomone down-regulated the same gene.We evaluated the same set of candidate reference genes for QPCR in Daphnia magna after exposure to a microcystin-producing and a microcystin-free strain of the cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa. The NF was calculated based on the reference genes 18S ribosomal RNA, alpha-tubulin and TATA-box binding protein. We found glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase and ubiquitin conjugating enzyme to be up-regulated in the presence of microcystins in the food of D. magna. These findings demonstrate that certain enzymes of glycolysis and protein catabolism are significantly upregulated when daphnids ingest microcystins. Each differentially regulated gene is a member of an expanded gene family in the D. pulex genome. The cyclophilin, GapDH and UBC genes show moderately large sequence divergence from their closest paralogs. Yet actin and alpha-tubulin genes targeted by our study have nearly identical paralogs at the amino acid level.


Gene expression analysis using a normalisation factor based on three reference genes showed that transcription levels of actin and alpha-tubulin were not substantially changed by predator-borne chemical cues from fishes or invertebrates, although changes in expression on the protein level were shown elsewhere. These changes in protein level could be caused by others than the investigated paralogs, showing the importance of the construction of phylogenetic trees for candidate gene approaches. However, fish kairomones caused an up-regulation, and Chaoborus kairomone caused a down-regulation of cyclophylin, which proved to be a potential target gene for further analysis of kairomone effects on the life history of daphnids. Changes in food quality required a different set of reference genes compared to the kairomone experiment. The presence of dietary microcystins led to an up-regulation of two genes involved in the basic metabolism of D. magna, i.e. glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase and ubiquitin conjugating enzyme, which suggests that microcystins in cyanobacteria have more general effects on the metabolism of D. magna than previously thought. Phylogenetic trees resolving relationships among paralogs that share the same gene name are shown to be important for determining the identity of the candidate genes under investigation.

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