In crustaceans, like all arthropods, growth is accompanied by a molting cycle. This cycle comprises major physiological events in which mineralized chitinous structures are built and degraded. These events are in turn governed by genes whose patterns of expression are presumably linked to the molting cycle. To study these genes we performed next generation sequencing and constructed a molt-related transcriptomic library from two exoskeletal-forming tissues of the crayfish Cherax quadricarinatus, namely the gastrolith and the mandible cuticle-forming epithelium. To simplify the study of such a complex process as molting, a novel approach, binary patterning of gene expression, was employed. This approach revealed that key genes involved in the synthesis and breakdown of chitin exhibit a molt-related pattern in the gastrolith-forming epithelium. On the other hand, the same genes in the mandible cuticle-forming epithelium showed a molt-independent pattern of expression. Genes related to the metabolism of glucosamine-6-phosphate, a chitin precursor synthesized from simple sugars, showed a molt-related pattern of expression in both tissues. The binary patterning approach unfolds typical patterns of gene expression during the molt cycle of a crustacean. The use of such a simplifying integrative tool for assessing gene patterning seems appropriate for the study of complex biological processes.
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