Sex identification from distinctive gene expression patterns in Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba)

Leonie Suter, Andrea Maree Polanowski, Robert King, Chiara Romualdi, Gabriele Sales, So Kawaguchi, Simon Neil Jarman, Bruce Emerson Deagle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) is a highly abundant keystone species of the Southern Ocean ecosystem, directly connecting primary producers to high-trophic level predators. Sex ratios of krill vary remarkably between swarms and this phenomenon is poorly understood, as identification of krill sex relies on external morphological differences that appear late during development. Sex determination mechanisms in krill are unknown, but could include genetic, environmental or parasitic mechanisms. Similarly, virtually nothing is known about molecular sex differentiation. The krill genome has to date not been sequenced, and due to its enormous size and large amount of repetitive elements, it is currently not feasible to develop sex-specific DNA markers. To produce a reliable molecular marker for sex in krill and to investigate molecular sex differentiation we therefore focused on identifying sex-specific transcriptomic differences. Through transcriptomic analysis, we found large gene expression differences between testes and ovaries and identified three genes exclusively expressed in female whole krill from early juvenile stages onwards. The sex-specific expression of these three genes persisted through sexual regression, although our regressed samples originated from a krill aquarium and may differ from wild-regressed krill. Two slightly male-biased genes did not display sufficient expression differences to clearly differentiate sexes. Based on the expression of the three female-specific genes we developed a molecular test that for the first time allows the unambiguous sex determination of krill samples lacking external sex-specific features from juvenile stages onwards, including the sexually regressed krill we examined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2205-2217
Number of pages13
JournalPolar Biology
Issue number12
Early online date23 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


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