Background: Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) have become the marker of choice for genome-wide association studies. In order to provide the best genome coverage for the analysis of performance and production traits, a large number of relatively evenly distributed SNPs are needed. Gene-associated SNPs may fulfill these requirements of large numbers and genome wide distribution. In addition, gene-associated SNPs could themselves be causative SNPs for traits. The objective of this project was to identify large numbers of gene-associated SNPs using high-throughput next generation sequencing.Results: Transcriptome sequencing was conducted for channel catfish and blue catfish using Illumina next generation sequencing technology. Approximately 220 million reads (15.6 Gb) for channel catfish and 280 million reads (19.6 Gb) for blue catfish were obtained by sequencing gene transcripts derived from various tissues of multiple individuals from a diverse genetic background. A total of over 35 billion base pairs of expressed short read sequences were generated. Over two million putative SNPs were identified from channel catfish and almost 2.5 million putative SNPs were identified from blue catfish. Of these putative SNPs, a set of filtered SNPs were identified including 342,104 intra-specific SNPs for channel catfish, 366,269 intra-specific SNPs for blue catfish, and 420,727 inter-specific SNPs between channel catfish and blue catfish. These filtered SNPs are distributed within 16,562 unique genes in channel catfish and 17,423 unique genes in blue catfish.Conclusions: For aquaculture species, transcriptome analysis of pooled RNA samples from multiple individuals using Illumina sequencing technology is both technically efficient and cost-effective for generating expressed sequences. Such an approach is most effective when coupled to existing EST resources generated using traditional sequencing approaches because the reference ESTs facilitate effective assembly of the expressed short reads. When multiple individuals with different genetic backgrounds are used, RNA-Seq is very effective for the identification of SNPs. The SNPs identified in this report will provide a much needed resource for genetic studies in catfish and will contribute to the development of a high-density SNP array. Validation and testing of these SNPs using SNP arrays will form the material basis for genome association studies and whole genome-based selection in catfish.
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