Developmental series of gene expression clarifies maternal mRNA provisioning and maternal-to-zygotic transition in a reef-building coral

Erin Chille, Emma Strand, Mayaan Neder, Valeria Schmidt, Madeleine Sherman, Tali Mass, Hollie Putnam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Maternal mRNA provisioning of oocytes regulates early embryogenesis. Maternal transcripts are degraded as zygotic genome activation (ZGA) intensifies, a phenomenon known as the maternal-to-zygotic transition (MZT). Here, we examine gene expression over nine developmental stages in the Pacific rice coral, Montipora capitata, from eggs and embryos at 1, 4, 9, 14, 22, and 36 h-post-fertilization (hpf), as well as swimming larvae (9d), and adult colonies. Results: Weighted Gene Coexpression Network Analysis revealed four expression peaks, identifying the maternal complement, two waves of the MZT, and adult expression. Gene ontology enrichment revealed maternal mRNAs are dominated by cell division, methylation, biosynthesis, metabolism, and protein/RNA processing and transport functions. The first MZT wave occurs from ~4-14 hpf and is enriched in terms related to biosynthesis, methylation, cell division, and transcription. In contrast, functional enrichment in the second MZT wave, or ZGA, from 22 hpf-9dpf, includes ion/peptide transport and cell signaling. Finally, adult expression is enriched for functions related to signaling, metabolism, and ion/peptide transport. Our proposed MZT timing is further supported by expression of enzymes involved in zygotic transcriptional repression (Kaiso) and activation (Sox2), which peak at 14 hpf and 22 hpf, respectively. Further, DNA methylation writing (DNMT3a) and removing (TET1) enzymes peak and remain stable past ~4 hpf, suggesting that methylome programming occurs before 4 hpf. Conclusions: Our high-resolution insight into the coral maternal mRNA and MZT provides essential baseline information to understand parental carryover effects and the sensitivity of developmental success under increasing environmental stress.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number815
Pages (from-to)815
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 11 Nov 2021


  • Animals
  • Anthozoa/genetics
  • Embryonic Development/genetics
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • RNA, Messenger, Stored/genetics
  • Zygote


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