Combining six genome scan methods to detect candidate genes to salinity in the Mediterranean striped red mullet (Mullus surmuletus)

Dalongeville et al. BMC Genomics (2018) 19:217. 

Background: Adaptive genomics may help predicting how a species will respond to future environmental changes. Genomic signatures of local adaptation in marine organisms are often driven by environmental selective agents impacting the physiology of organisms. With one of the highest salinity level, the Mediterranean Sea provides an excellent model to investigate adaptive genomic divergence underlying salinity adaptation. In the present study, we combined six genome scan methods to detect potential genomic signal of selection in the striped red mullet (Mullus surmuletus) populations distributed across a wide salinity gradient. We then blasted these outlier sequences on published fish genomic resources in order to identify relevant potential candidate genes for salinity adaptation in this species.

Results: Altogether, the six genome scan methods found 173 outliers out of 1153 SNPs. Using a blast approach, we discovered four candidate SNPs belonging to three genes potentially implicated in adaptation of M. surmuletus to salinity. The allele frequency at one of these SNPs significantly increases with salinity independently from the effect of longitude. The gene associated to this SNP, SOCS2, encodes for an inhibitor of cytokine and has previously been shown to be expressed under osmotic pressure in other marine organisms. Additionally, our results showed that genome scan methods not correcting for spatial structure can still be an efficient strategy to detect potential footprints of selection, when the spatial and environmental variation are confounded, and then, correcting for spatial structure in a second step represents a conservative method.

Conclusion: The present outcomes bring evidences of potential genomic footprint of selection, which suggest an adaptive response of M. surmuletus to salinity conditions in the Mediterranean Sea. Additional genomic data such as sequencing of a full-genome and transcriptome analyses of gene expression would provide new insights regarding the possibility that some striped red mullet populations are locally adapted to their saline environment.