Towards Decrypting Cryptobiosis—Analyzing Anhydrobiosis in the Tardigrade Milnesium tardigradum Using Transcriptome Sequencing
Many tardigrade species are capable of anhydrobiosis; however, mechanisms underlying their extreme desiccation resistance remain elusive. This study attempts to quantify the anhydrobiotic transcriptome of the limno-terrestrial tardigrade Milnesium tardigradum.
A prerequisite for differential gene expression analysis was the generation of a reference hybrid transcriptome atlas by assembly of Sanger, 454 and Illumina sequence data. The final assembly yielded 79,064 contigs (>100 bp) after removal of ribosomal RNAs. Around 50% of them could be annotated by SwissProt and NCBI non-redundant protein sequences. Analysis using CEGMA predicted 232 (93.5%) out of the 248 highly conserved eukaryotic genes in the assembly. We used this reference transcriptome for mapping and quantifying the expression of transcripts regulated under anhdydrobiosis in a time-series during dehydration and rehydration. 834 of the transcripts were found to be differentially expressed in a single stage (dehydration/inactive tun/rehydration) and 184 were overlapping in two stages while 74 were differentially expressed in all three stages. We have found interesting patterns of differentially expressed transcripts that are in concordance with a common hypothesis of metabolic shutdown during anhydrobiosis. This included down-regulation of several proteins of the DNA replication and translational machinery and protein degradation. Among others, heat shock proteins Hsp27 and Hsp30c were up-regulated in response to dehydration and rehydration. In addition, we observed up-regulation of ployubiquitin-B upon rehydration together with a higher expression level of several DNA repair proteins during rehydration than in the dehydration stage.
Most of the transcripts identified to be differentially expressed had distinct cellular function. Our data suggest a concerted molecular adaptation in M. tardigradum that permits extreme forms of ametabolic states such as anhydrobiosis. It is temping to surmise that the desiccation tolerance of tradigrades can be achieved by a constitutive cellular protection system, probably in conjunction with other mechanisms such as rehydration-induced cellular repair.