Fernando Ayllon, Erik Kjærner-Semb, Tomasz Furmanek, Vidar Wennevik, Monica Solberg, Harald Sægrov, Kurt Urdal, Geir Dahle, Geir Lasse Taranger, Kevin A Glover, Markus S Almén, Carl J Rubin, Rolf B Edvardsen, Anna Wargelius
Abstract Background Sea age at sexual maturation displays large plasticity for wild Atlantic salmon males and varies between 1-5 years. This flexibility can also be observed in domesticated salmon. Previous studies have uncovered a genetic predisposition for age at maturity with moderate heritability, thus suggesting a polygenic nature of this trait. The aim with this study was to identify genomic regions and associated SNPs and genes conferring age at maturity in salmon. Results We performed a GWAS using a pool sequencing approach (n=20 per river and trait) of salmon returning as sexually mature either after one sea winter (2009) or after three sea winters (2011) in six rivers in Norway. The study revealed one major selective sweep, which covered 76 significant SNP in a 230 kb region of Chr 25. A SNP assay of other year classes of wild salmon and from cultivated fish supported this finding. The assay in cultivated fish reduced the haplotype conferring the trait to a region which covered 4 SNPs of a 2386 bp region containing the vgll3 gene. 2 of these SNPs caused miss-sense mutations in vgll3. Conclusions This study presents a single selective region in the genome for age at maturation in male Atlantic salmon. The SNPs identified may be used as QTLs to prevent early maturity in aquaculture and in monitoring programs of wild salmon. Interestingly, the identified vgll3 gene has previously been linked to time of puberty in humans, suggesting a conserved mechanism for time of puberty in vertebrates.