Comparative transcriptomics suggest unique molecular adaptations within tardigrade lineages

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Tardigrades are renowned for their ability to enter cryptobiosis (latent life) and endure extreme stress, including desiccation and freezing. Increased focus is on revealing molecular mechanisms underlying this tolerance. Here, we provide the first transcriptomes from the heterotardigrade Echiniscoides cf. sigismundi and the eutardigrade Richtersius cf. coronifer, and compare these with data from other tardigrades and six eukaryote models. Investigating 107 genes/gene families, our study provides a thorough analysis of tardigrade gene content with focus on stress tolerance.

E. cf. sigismundi, a strong cryptobiont, apparently lacks expression of a number of stress related genes. Most conspicuous is the lack of transcripts from genes involved in classical Non-Homologous End Joining. Our analyses suggest that post-cryptobiotic survival in tardigrades could rely on high fidelity transcription-coupled DNA repair. Tardigrades seem to lack many peroxins, but they all have a comprehensive number of genes encoding proteins involved in antioxidant defense. The “tardigrade unique proteins” (CAHS, SAHS, MAHS, RvLEAM), seem to be missing in the heterotardigrade lineage, revealing that cryptobiosis in general cannot be attributed solely to these proteins. Our investigation further reveals a unique and highly expressed cold shock domain. We hypothesize that the cold shock protein acts as a RNA-chaperone involved in regulation of translation following freezing.

Our results show common gene family contractions and expansions within stress related gene pathways in tardigrades, but also indicate that evolutionary lineages have a high degree of divergence. Different taxa and lineages may exhibit unique physiological adaptations towards stress conditions involving possible unknown functional homologues and/or novel physiological and biochemical mechanisms. To further substantiate the current results genome assemblies coupled with transcriptome data and experimental investigations are needed from tardigrades belonging to different evolutionary lineages.
Original languageEnglish
Article number607
JournalB M C Genomics
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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