BMC genomics

De novo assembly of the dual transcriptomes of a polymorphic raptor species and its malarial parasite.

PMID 26645667


Studies of non-model species are important for understanding the molecular processes underpinning phenotypic variation under natural ecological conditions. The common buzzard (Buteo buteo; Aves: Accipitriformes) is a widespread and common Eurasian raptor with three distinct plumage morphs that differ in several fitness-related traits, including parasite infestation. To provide a genomic resource for plumage polymorphic birds in general and to search for candidate genes relating to fitness, we generated a transcriptome from a single dead buzzard specimen plus easily accessible, minimally invasive samples from live chicks. We not only de novo assembled a near-complete buzzard transcriptome, but also obtained a significant fraction of the transcriptome of its malaria-like parasite, Leucocytozoon buteonis. By identifying melanogenesis-related transcripts that are differentially expressed in light ventral and dark dorsal feathers, but which are also expressed in other regions of the body, we also identified a suite of candidate genes that could be associated with fitness differences among the morphs. These include several immune-related genes, providing a plausible link between melanisation and parasite load. qPCR analysis of a subset of these genes revealed significant differences between ventral and dorsal feathers and an additional effect of morph. This new resource provides preliminary insights into genes that could be involved in fitness differences between the buzzard colour morphs, and should facilitate future studies of raptors and their malaria-like parasites.