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De novo characterization of the gene-rich transcriptomes of two color-polymorphic spiders, Theridion grallator and T. californicum (Araneae: Theridiidae), with special reference to pigment genes

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A number of spider species within the family Theridiidae exhibit a dramatic abdominal (opisthosomal) color polymorphism. The polymorphism is inherited in a broadly Mendelian fashion and in some species consists of dozens of discrete morphs that are convergent across taxa and populations. Few genomic resources exist for spiders. Here, as a first necessary step towards identifying the genetic basis for this trait we present the near complete transcriptomes of two species: the Hawaiian happy-face spider Theridion grallator and Theridion californicum. We mined the gene complement for pigment-pathway genes and examined differential expression (DE) between morphs that are unpatterned (plain yellow) and patterned (yellow with superimposed patches of red, white or very dark brown).


By deep sequencing both RNA-seq and normalized cDNA libraries from pooled specimens of each species we were able to assemble a comprehensive gene set for both species that we estimate to be 98-99% complete. It is likely that these species express more than 20,000 protein-coding genes, perhaps 4.5% (ca. 870) of which might be unique to spiders. Mining for pigment-associated Drosophila melanogaster genes indicated the presence of all ommochrome pathway genes and most pteridine pathway genes and DE analyses further indicate a possible role for the pteridine pathway in theridiid color patterning.


Based upon our estimates, T. grallator and T. californicum express a large inventory of protein-coding genes. Our comprehensive assembly illustrates the continuing value of sequencing normalized cDNA libraries in addition to RNA-seq in order to generate a reference transcriptome for non-model species. The identification of pteridine-related genes and their possible involvement in color patterning is a novel finding in spiders and one that suggests a biochemical link between guanine deposits and the pigments exhibited by these species.

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