Several organisms display dormancy and developmental arrest at embryonic stages. Long-term survival in the dormant form is usually associated with desiccation, orthodox plant seeds and Artemia cysts being well documented examples. Several aquatic invertebrates display dormancy during embryonic development and survive for tens or even hundreds of years in a hydrated form, raising the question of whether survival in the non-desiccated form of embryonic development depends on pathways similar to those occurring in desiccation tolerant forms.
To address this question, Illumina short read sequencing was used to generate transcription profiles from the resting and amictic eggs of an aquatic invertebrate, the rotifer, Brachionus plicatilis. These two types of egg have very different life histories, with the dormant or diapausing resting eggs, the result of the sexual cycle and amictic eggs, the non-dormant products of the asexual cycle. Significant transcriptional differences were found between the two types of egg, with amictic eggs rich in genes involved in the morphological development into a juvenile rotifer. In contrast, representatives of classical “stress” proteins: a small heat shock protein, ferritin and Late Embryogenesis Abundant (LEA) proteins were identified in resting eggs. More importantly however, was the identification of transcripts for messenger ribonucleoprotein particles which stabilise RNA. These inhibit translation and provide a valuable source of useful RNAs which can be rapidly activated on the exit from dormancy. Apoptotic genes were also present. Although apoptosis is inconsistent with maintenance of prolonged dormancy, an altered apoptotic pathway has been proposed for Artemia, and this may be the case with the rotifer.
These data represent the first transcriptional profiling of molecular processes associated with dormancy in a non-desiccated form and indicate important similarities in the molecular pathways activated in resting eggs compared with desiccated dormant forms, specifically plant seeds and Artemia.