Characteristics of the target gene mstn in large yellow croaker
Myostatin (MSTN/Mstn) is a significant inhibiting factor for muscle growing not only in mammals but also teleosts. Especially, due to the fish-specific whole genome duplication, two mstn genes, mastna and mstnb, were found in bony fish like zebrafish, channel catfish and grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus) (Xu et al., 2019). In our study, via genome-wide blastp with the reference sequences, we also identified two mstn genes in the large yellow croaker, which had never been mentioned in other studies. As the phylogenetic result showed (Fig. 2a), one was homologous with the Mstnb protein sequences of zebrafish and channel catfish, renamed Mstnb. Meanwhile the other one presented closer relationship and conserved synteny with the Mstna sequences, therefore renamed Mstna. The phylogenetic result supported the different paralogous clades of Mstn in large yellow croaker which was coincided to previous results.
As for chromosome position (Fig. 2b), mstna was located in chromosome 19 while mstnb was in chromosome 1. What’s more, it was also found that mstnb kept a relative conserved neighborhood location with hibsh, psm1 and ormdl1 genes on the same chromosome, which was the same as the mstn genes in mammals (Fig. 2b). And the paralogous copy, mstna was always collinearly surrounded by ftcd, stat1a and glsa genes (Fig. 2b). Both of them contained 3 exons but the whole length of mstna was longer than that of mastnb (Fig. 1b). MSTN/Mstn in vertebrate species consisted of a single peptide concluding an N-terminal predomain and a C-terminal active domain (Xu et al., 2003). According to the motif components of MSTN/Mstn, 8 motifs were the common and conserved elements among vertebrates. However, it seemed that Mstnb in teleosts had evolved a different motif compared to mammals while Mstna lost two motifs compared with Mstnb (Fig. 2a). This could be the great importance of character for distinguishing the two branches.
Above all, different chromosome location, neighborhood genes, motif components and phylogenetic relationship suggested two mstn genes different roles and functions in growth and metabolism.
Mutation of mstn in L. crocea
Among numbers of species, it was clear that mstnb played a significant role in negatively regulating growth. Mstnb-deficient zebrafish and loach (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus) showed significantly increasing muscle mass with muscle fiber hyperplasia (Gao et al., 2016, Tao et al., 2021), and the body weight and body length of the mstnab +/− common carp were significantly enhanced (Shahi et al., 2022), which provided a promising direction in aquaculture output of economic fish. Therefore, we selected mstnb of the large yellow croaker as the target gene. After detecting, two sgRNAs from eight targets we designed to target the coding sequences in the exon1 were effective (Fig. 1b). Compared with sequence in wild type fish, five deletion mutation were detected including 12-bp, 28-bp, 36-bp, 83-bp and 97-bp deletion simultaneously (Fig. 2c). It was likely that different from single gRNA microinjection (Shahi et al., 2022, Tao et al., 2021, Zhang et al., 2020b), the injection of multiple gRNAs simultaneously could induce larger segments deletion between two target sites (Fig. 2c). This method was also considered and employed a faster and effective strategy based on CRISPR/Cas9 system in the zebrafish retinal diseases model research (Unal Eroglu et al., 2018), helping efficiently influence the gene function with designing 162 target sites for 83 gene to establish a high-throughput mutagenesis pipeline (Varshney et al., 2015). However, in the previous study of single MSTN-gRNA knockout in the olive flounder, only up to 11-bp deletions or insertions were observed (Kim et al., 2019). Similar result was also presented in blunt snout bream with three targets for mstna and mstnb deficiency (Sun et al., 2020). In our study, we harvested two validated gRNAs for the 125-bp target sequences in exon1 and transferred them into fertilized embryos concurrently. Surprisingly we received up-to-90-bp deletion between the two targets, which provided useful information and experiment guidance for next-step gene-editing work in the large yellow croaker.
Up to now, microinjecting CRISPR/Cas9 system into one-cell embryos has been thought to be a pretty popular and convenient method to knockout or knock-in genes in bony fish, which was also ever conducted in the large yellow croaker (Li et al., 2021). What couldn’t be ignored were the low hatching rate caused by damage after injection and low surviving rate due to the special character of clustering. Front-line production experience and observation studies told us it was impossible for a few large yellow croakers to grow up to maturity alone. Unlike other fish, it was said that they preferred to live in a group with a group size up to ten thousand. Even though microinjection could transfer the RNPs into the embryos successfully, most of eggs were hard to repair the tinny hole caused by needle tip to die after injection at a surviving rate of 1–2%, which was showed in this study. Therefore, it’s still a huge challenge to obtained at least one thousand live injected eggs, not to mention one thousand live fries. Recently electroporation was reused to import plasmid or DNA into the germ cells of the channel catfish (Dunham et al., 2018) and zebrafish (Daneluz et al., 2020) before fertilization, which could conduct thousands of cells in a few minutes. Maybe it would provide a new direction to transfer gRNAs into the sperm cells or one-cell embryos of L. croea.
On the other hand, the existence of mosaic mutation was another obstructive factor to obtain mutative homozygote and extremely common in most gene-editing animals, which also appeared in this study. It was reported that the developmental pace of embryos when injection conducted and the injection volumes of oligonucleotide donor template were the main reasons that resulted in mosaicism (Straume et al., 2021, Jin et al., 2020). After two-cell development, the RNPs existed in different cells would prefer to induce different disruption at the target site randomly. Usually, series of further hybridization was considered to obtain homozygous mutants. The generation of mosaic individuals was a disadvantage for genetic F0 mutants, which also implied the necessity of finding more high-efficiency substitute for the import of RNPs.
Current Problems, Challenges And Future Perspectives
Through long-period cultivation and trials, the artificial breeding of L. crocea was overcame (Zhao et al., 2021). But with the increasing consumption and product need, germplasm was urged to be improved under the threat of diseases bursting frequently (Bai et al., 2022). Genomic editing technology had been applied to kinds of farm animals including pig, sheep, bream and carp to produce superior traits, which showed great prospect for optimizing genotypes of L. crocea. However, the application of CRISPR/Cas9 in aquaculture was still at early phase of development compared to its use in biomedical research. Whether the design and selection of targets, or the difficulty of microinjection, or breading challenge for a small number of fries posed a huge obstacle to gene-editing work of the large yellow croaker. With the fast upgrading and improvement of gene editing, solutions would be worked out and applied sooner or later. Taking into consideration food safety and ecological risks, related assessment and management also should be appropriately established and completed as soon as possible. Encouragingly, AquaAdvantage salmon (Waltz, 2017), Galsafe pig and GE Nile tilapia were approved for production recently with their significant target traits (Blix et al., 2021), which set good examples. As shown as the results in this study, the biggest problem was how to gently and effectively transfer the RNPs into the one-cell embryos at a large amount in a few minutes. Other methods like electroporation are worth trying and researching. All in all, there is still a long and tortuous road to explore for realizing genetic improving in the large yellow croaker.