European shore crab transcriptome mapped: Image courtesy of Dr Andrew Watts.

Feeling crabby? Genetic tools probe the ways in which shore crabs can fight infection.

Exeter researchers utilise the latest in next-generation sequencing techniques to unravel the genes that are expressed in the European shore crab, Carcinus maenas. This great data source can be used to illustrate the biological systems of the crab. Researchers characterized the crabs’ immune system, shining a light on the ways in which the creature can defend itself at the cellular level against viruses and other pathogens.

European shore crabs are often used as a research species in diverse studies from looking at how heavy metals or plastics accumulate in animals, to investigating host-pathogen interactions. Furthermore they are an important invasive species in some parts of the world. This makes them an interesting model species for a whole range of researchers. Unfortunately, until recently, there was still limited data concerning the genetics of this species, which has hindered the progress that can be made in some of these fields. Bas Verbruggen - PhD scholar in the Biosciences department - has with the help of other collaborators from the UK, produced an assembled transcriptome of the crab. Different from a genome, the transcriptome shows only the set of genes that are expressed in the cells. They hope this transcriptome will allow every interested researcher to answer the pressing questions of how these creatures function, from the cellular level upward.

The researchers are mainly interested in how the crab deals with pathogens like the White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV). This virus causes a lot of damage to global crustaceans and shrimp aquaculture in particular. Previous work showed that the crab is relatively resistant to it when compared to other crustaceans. Naturally, exploring this requires understanding of the immune system of the crab. They found that many known pathways for immune response in invertebrates were also expressed in the shore crab and that the expression of these immune pathways differed between different tissues and organs within the crab.

Furthermore, they showed the sequences of the endocytosis pathway, a vesicle transport system within the cell, which viruses often exploit to enter host cells. “With this dataset we have a great foundation on which we can build follow-up experiments. The next step would be to observe transcriptome changes upon introduction of WSSV” lead author Bas Verbruggen explained. “We are trying to learn why this species stands out in resistance to WSSV and hopefully our findings can be translated to aid the more susceptible species”.

Article written by Richard Cross, Biosciences Press Gang.

Date: 28 September 2015

Read more University News