Growth rates in animals are governed by a wide range of biological factors, many of which remain poorly understood. To identify the genes that establish growth differences in bivalve larvae, we compared expression patterns in contrasting phenotypes (slow- and fast-growth) that were experimentally produced by genetic crosses of the Pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas. Based on transcriptomic profiling of 4.5 million cDNA sequence tags, we sequenced and annotated 181 cDNA clones identified by statistical analysis as candidates for differential growth. Significant matches were found in GenBank for 43% of clones (N=78), including 34 known genes. These sequences included genes involved in protein metabolism, energy metabolism and regulation of feeding activity. Ribosomal protein genes were predominant, comprising half of the 34 genes identified. Expression of ribosomal protein genes showed non-additive inheritance — i.e. expression in fast-growing hybrid larvae was different from average levels in inbred larvae from these parental families. The expression profiles of four ribosomal protein genes (RPL18, RPL31, RPL352 and RPS3) were validated by RNA blots using additional, independent crosses from the same families. Expression of RPL35 was monitored throughout early larval development, revealing that these expression patterns were established early in development (in 2-day-old larvae). Our findings (i) provide new insights into the mechanistic bases of growth and highlight genes not previously considered in growth regulation, (ii) support the general conclusion that genes involved in protein metabolism and feeding regulation are key regulators of growth, and (iii) provide a set of candidate biomarkers for predicting differential growth rates during animal development.
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