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1 June 1999 Genetic Basis of the Variegated Tail Pattern in the Guppy, Poecilia reticulata
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Abstract

Variegated patterns on the caudal fin are a common and popular trait in guppy strains commercially cultured in Singapore. Gene control of this highly variable mosaic pattern of black spots and patches of different shapes and sizes on a brightly colored tail fin was elucidated by reciprocal crosses between the Green Variegated (GV) strain and wild-type (WT) stock. F1 progenies were produced by single-pair crossing between GV and WT, while the F2 generation was obtained from full-sib mating between F1 males and F1 females. Data for the F1 and F2 generations were segregated according to phenotypes and sex, and tested by chi-square analyses. Inheritance of variegated tail patterns appears to be determined by a single locus on the X- and Y-chromosomes. Genotypes of males and females of the GV strain are proposed to be X VarYVar and XVarXVar, respectively. The allele for variegated tail patterning, Var, is dominant over that of the wild-type, Var , which does not exhibit these patterns. Recombination frequency between the Var locus and sex-determining region (SdR) in male guppies was estimated to be about 1.9% (map distance ≈1.9 map units). The segregation and mode of inheritance of the Var gene are illustrated by genetic models.

INTRODUCTION

The wild-type guppy, Poecilia reticulata Peters, is a poecilid native to freshwater streams, ponds and brackishwater swamps of Trinidad, Barbados, Venezuela, Guyana and north-eastern Brazil (Haskins and Haskins, 1951). This livebearer shows striking sexual dimorphism. Wild-type males are smaller than females and their anal fin is modified into a copulatory organ called the gonopodium. Adult males exhibit complex polymorphic spots and patches varying in size, shape and color on the body and fins while the females are devoid of any color patterns, being a uniform olive-brown with hyaline fins (Haskins and Haskins, 1951; Endler, 1983). The wild-type guppy was introduced into Singapore and other parts of South-East Asia in the late 1930s for mosquito control (Herre, 1940). From these introductions, wild populations are now found in most streams, drains, canals and fish ponds.

The guppy became popular among aquarists and hobbyists who developed many exotic strains by intensive selection of spontaneous mutant genes that affect the coloration as well as the shape and size of the body and fins (Kirpichnikov, 1981; Fernando and Phang, 1985). In Singapore, commercial culture of fancy guppy strains began in the early 1950s. About 30–40 different strains are currently reared in monoculture farms (Fernando and Phang, 1985). The guppy plays an important role in the freshwater ornamental fish industry of Singapore whose total exports of ornamental fish in 1995 amounted to US$50 million (Ng, 1996).

The guppy is unique among other teleosts in that almost all the genes encoding for color patterns, with the exception of background body coloration genes, are sex-linked and sexlimited. It is the first organism in which Y-linked inheritance of color genes was demonstrated (Schmidt, 1920; Winge, 1922a, b, 1927). The guppy has 23 pairs of chromosomes, of which 22 are autosomal and one pair the sex chromosomes. The males are heterogametic (XY) but the females are homogametic (XX) (Winge, 1922a, b; Winge and Ditlevsen, 1947). Expression of color patterns in domesticated strains has been found to be determined by dominant sex-linked genes (Dzwillo, 1959; Nayudu, 1975, 1979; Fernando and Phang, 1989; Phang et al., 1989a, b, 1990; Phang and Fernando, 1991). The color patterns of these strains were initially selected from a large gene pool in wild-type populations. Kirpichnikov (1981), in his review, documented 17 Y-linked genes that are passed from father to son through the Y-chromosome (one-sided masculine inheritance), 15 that are X- and Y-linked (found in both males and females but expressed only in males as they are sex-limited and hormone-mediated), and one that is autosomal dominant. In contrast, genes responsible for background body coloration such as blond (bb), gold (gg), albino (aa) and blue (rr) are autosomally inherited and recessive to their wild-type alleles (Blacher, 1927; Haskins and Druzba, 1938; Goodrich et al., 1944, 1947).

Color patterns on the caudal fin of domesticated guppy strains take the form of single bright colors, snakeskin-like reticulations and variegated mosaic patterns of two or more colors. Recent farm surveys show the popularity of reticulated snakeskin and variegated patterns (approximately 15 and 13 strains, respectively) among guppy strains that are commercially cultured for export. The snakeskin pattern has been found to be caused by two genes, Sst and Ssb (Phang et al., 1989a, b, 1990; Phang and Fernando, 1991), while red, blue and green tail colors are attributed to the Rdt, Blt and Grt genes, respectively (Fernando and Phang, 1989; Phang et al., 1991). The term “variegated” is usually applied in the guppy to an exceedingly variable mosaic pattern of black spots and patches of different shapes and sizes on a brightly colored tail fin. No two male or female offspring, including those of the same parents, have been observed to possess similar variegated patterns. With the exception of the Variabilis gene (Va) in wildtype guppies, described by Winge (1927) as having considerable phenotypic variation in the number, size and position of red side patches and black specks as well as a labyrinthine caudal fin pattern, there are no other reports on genes that control highly variable body and tail fin patterns in the guppy. Therefore, the main objective of this study was to investigate the genetic basis of the variegated tail pattern and its mode of inheritance in domesticated guppy strains.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Source of the fish

Three- to four-week old fry of the Green Variegated (GV) guppy strain were obtained from Swee Hing & Brothers Aquarium Co. in Singapore. Wild-type (WT) guppies were collected from an isolated hill-stream near the Bukit Timah nature reserve in Singapore. Juvenile GV were cultured in 180-liter fibreglass tanks (30 fish/tank) in the aquarium area of the Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, at temperatures of 25–28°C. WT fry were separated from the collected samples and raised in 30-liter clear plastic tanks (20 fish/tank). Under laboratory conditions, sexual maturation of WT fry usually occurs at 4-6 weeks of age. Juvenile WT were checked daily for developing males which is recognised by the formation of the gonopodium from the anal fin. Males, when spotted, were immediately removed and reared separately from females as virgin females were necessary for the reciprocal crosses.

Description of the fish

Adult males and females of the GV strain have a total length of 3–4 cm and 5–6 cm, respectively. Adult GV males have a green metallic sheen overlying the wild-type male body coloration that comprise small spots or patches of various colors. Only GV males have an orange tail with some yellow streaks, and numerous black spots and patches of different shapes and sizes (Fig. 1A). GV females show wild-type female olive-brown body coloration and faint greyish-brown variegated patterns on a yellowish tail (Fig. 1B). Wild-type guppies are smaller than the domesticated GV strain. Adult WT males are 2–2.5 cm in length while the females are about 3–4 cm. As described earlier, WT males have highly polymorphic color patterns on the body and fins (Fig. 1C), while WT females totally lack any color patterns (Fig. 1D).

Fig. 1

(A) Adult male guppy of the Green Variegated strain. (B) Adult female guppy of the Green Variegated strain. (C) Adult male wild-type guppy. (D) Adult female wild-type guppy. (E) F1 males showing typical variegated tail patterning (top) and wild-type tail without any patterns (bottom) from mating pair PG9. (F) F1 female with variegated tail patterning. (G) F2 males of the VAR (top) and WT (bottom) phenotypes. (H) F2 females of the VAR (top) and WT (bottom) phenotypes.

i0289-0003-16-3-431-f01.jpg

Reciprocal crosses

Inheritance of the variegated tail pattern was elucidated by singlepair reciprocal crosses between the GV strain and WT stock, using six-week old mature virgin fish. Each pair was kept in a 3.5-liter breeding tank. Broods were produced 4-6 weeks after mating. Single-pair full-sib F1 males and F1 females were mated to obtain the F2 generation. The following notations were used: GV ♂♂× WT ♀♀ (Table 1A) and WT ♂♂ × GV ♀♀ (Table 2A) for parental crosses, and F1 ♂♂ × F1 ♀♀ (Tables 1B, 2B) for full-sib F1 crosses. Newly born fry were separated and raised to maturity in 3.5-liter clear plastic tanks (five fish/tank). F1 and F2 progenies were segregated and scored according to phenotypes and sex. All progenies displaying variegated tail patterns were designated as the VAR phenotype and those without such patterns, WT phenotype.

Table 1

Mating results of crosses between Green Variegated (GV) male and wild-type (WT) female guppies showing observed and expected numbers for each phenotypic class, expected segregation ratios, chi-square goodness-of-fit to the expected ratios and their corresponding adjusted values (χ2 adj) after application of Yates' correction for continuity, χ2 test for homogeneity, probable genotypes and recombinants for (A) the F1 generation of single-pair parental crosses, and (B) the F2 generation of single-pair crosses between full-sib F1 males and F1 females. Recombinants (§) due to crossing-over of the Var gene were not considered in chi-square analyses. (Phenotypes: VAR = tail with variegated patterns, WT = wild-type tail without variegated patterns. Genes: Var = variegated tail pattern gene, Var+ = absence of variegated tail pattern gene).

i0289-0003-16-3-431-t01.gif

Table 2

Mating results of crosses between wild-type (WT) male and Green Variegated (GV) female guppies showing observed and expected numbers for each phenotypic class, expected segregation ratios, chi-square goodness-of-fit to the expected ratios and their corresponding adjusted values (χ2adj) after application of Yates' correction for continuity, χ2 test for homogeneity, probable genotypes and recombinants for the (A) F1 generation of single-pair parental crosses, and (B) F2 generation of single-pair crosses between full-sib F1 males and F1 females. Recombinants (#) due to crossing-over of the Var gene were not considered in chi-square analyses. (Phenotypes: VAR = tail with variegated patterns, WT = wild-type tail without variegated patterns. Genes: Var = variegated tail pattern gene, Var+ = absence of variegated tail pattern gene).

i0289-0003-16-3-431-t02.gif

Statistical analyses

Observed phenotypic distributions were tested for goodness-of-fit with predicted proportions using the chi-square (χ2) test (Sokal and Rohlf, 1981; Strickberger, 1990). Since observed and expected numbers in the phenotypic classes and sample sizes were small (n< 200), Yates' (1934) correction for continuity was included in the calculation of χ2 to improve the approximation to the χ2 distribution, as shown by the χ2adj values. The χ2 test for homogeneity was used to determine whether there were significant differences among the phenotypic frequencies, and if the observations were sufficiently uniform and the population homogeneous after the data was pooled. The correction for continuity was not incorporated into the test for homogeneity because calculated χ2 values had to be summed and χ2adj values were not additive (Sokal and Rohlf, 1981; Strickberger, 1990). Following Winge (1922b, 1923, 1927, 1934), Nayudu (1979), Phang et al. (1989a, b, 1990), and Phang and Fernando (1991), individuals with exceptional coloration due to crossing-over of the Var gene between the X- and Y-chromosomes were not considered in chi-square analyses. Recombination frequency and map distance between the Var locus and sex-determining region (designated as SdR), proposed by Schmidt (1920) and Winge (1922a, b, 1927, 1934) to be found on the Y-chromosome, were estimated according to Strickberger (1990), Phang et al. (1990), Phang and Fernando (1991), and Purdom (1993).

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Cross between GV males and WT females

Four mating pairs of GV♂♂ × WT♀♀ (PG1, PG4, PG5 and PG10) gave a total of 47 male and 63 female F1 offspring in 13 broods, with an expected ratio of 1:1 (Table 1A). F1 male progenies showed variegated tail patterns (VAR phenotype) and wild-type male body coloration (WT) (Fig. 1E), while F1 females had faint greyish-brown variegated patterns on the tail and wild-type olive-brown background body coloration (Fig. 1F). In this typical cross, F1 males and females could have inherited the variegated pattern only from the GV male parent. Table 1A also shows one mating pair, PG3, which gave almost exclusively all male F1 offspring (18 males and one female). This is due to the instability of the genetic mechanism of sex determination in the guppy since a large number of weak additive male and female sex genes present in the autosomes and X-chromosome may alter the balance of sex (Nayudu, 1979; Kirpichnikov, 1981). The collective effect of these genes may be more pronounced than that of the sex factors on the sex chromosomes, thus producing more male offspring and vice versa. Another mating, PG9, produced only WT males (Fig. 1E) and VAR females (Table 1A). This is attributed to the possibility that the GV male parent was heterozygous for the Var gene and possessed the recessive allele, Var+, on the Y-chromosome.

The F2 generation comprised a total of 252 VAR males, 114 VAR females and 103 WT females (Fig. 1G, H) with the observed numbers agreeing with the expected 2:1:1 ratio (Table 1B). A slight exception occurred in mating PG4 where a higher number of VAR males caused significant difference at the 5% level but not at 1% (Table 1B). This was rectified when Yates' (1934) correction for continuity was applied. Three mating pairs (PG1, PG4 and PG5) gave eight exceptional males with WT body and tail coloration among the F2 individuals (Table 1B). We speculate that the lack of variegated tail patterning in these males was due to crossing-over of the Var gene from the Y- to the X-chromosome in the F1 VAR male parents. Since only the Var locus and sex-determining region (SdR) are considered in this study, the recombination frequency between Var and SdR is estimated to be 3.077%, i.e., eight WT male recombinants of a total 260 F2 males (Table 1B). For mating pair PG9, the F2 generation consisted of VAR males, WT males, VAR females and WT females (Fig. 1G, H) in a 1:1:1:1 expected ratio (Table 1B). In addition, homogeneity χ2 values showed that the pooled F1 and F2 generations of PG1, PG4, PG5 and PG10 were uniform and did not form heterogeneous populations (Table 1A, 1B). χ2 tests were not carried out for PG3 as the solitary F1 female did not produce any F2 progenies (Table 1B). The F1 and F2 results gave evidence that the putative genotype typical of GV males is XVarYVar while that of the heterozygous male of mating pair PG9 is XVarYVar+. A genetic model illustrating the segregation of the dominant Var gene is presented in Fig. 2.

Fig. 2

Schematic diagram of the proposed genetic models illustrating the segregation of the Var tail color pattern gene, phenotypes and genotypes of the parents (P), F1 and F2 progenies, and recombinants (R) that occur in reciprocal crosses between the Green Variegated (GV) and wild-type (WT) guppies. Mating pair PG9 in which the GV ♂♂ parent was heterozygous for the Var gene and its F1 and F2 progenies (indicated as9) are shown within thin borders to distinguish them from the typical GV ♂♂× WT♀♀cross.

i0289-0003-16-3-431-f02.gif

Cross between WT males and GV females

Eight matings (PW1–PW8) of the reciprocal cross, WT♂♂ × GV♀♀, gave 23 F1 broods consisting of 162 males and 168 females, all with variegated tail patterns (VAR phenotype) albeit fainter and less distinct in the females (Fig. 1E, F). The observed number of male to female offspring conformed to the expected 1:1 ratio (Table 2A). With the exception of three recombinant females with WT phenotype, the F2 progeny of this cross segregated into 181 VAR males, 174 WT males and 387 VAR females (Fig. 1G, H) according to the 1:1:2 hypothetical ratio (Table 2B). The F1 and F2 progenies also formed homogeneous populations after their respective observations were pooled (Table 2A, 2B). The occurrence of three F2 females for mating pairs PW1, PW5 and PW6 which had hyaline tails instead of the expected faint greyish-brown variegated patterns on a yellowish tail could be caused by crossing-over of the Var gene from the X- to the Y-chromosome in the F1 VAR male parents (Table 2B). Since there were three WT female recombinants of a total of 390 F2 females, the crossover frequency between the Var locus and SdR in this case is 0.769% (Table 2B). The F1 and F2 results therefore confirmed that the GV female parents used in this study were homozygous at the Var locus and possessed the genotype XVarXVar. The genetic model for the segregation of Var in this reciprocal cross is shown in Fig. 2.

The Var gene

Results of all parental (GV♂♂ × WT♀♀ and WT♂♂ × GV♀♀, Tables 1A, 2A) and full-sib (F1♂♂ × F1♀♀, Tables 1B, 2B) crosses indicate that the highly variable variegated tail pattern of the Green Variegated guppy strain is a simple sex-linked trait controlled by a single gene with two alleles, Var dominant for variegated tail pattern over Var+ recessive for wild-type which do not exhibit these patterns (Fig. 2). This is the first study that reports the expression of the variegated tail pattern gene, Var, was dominant in both sexes. Our results also show that the Var allele is able to cross over from the Y- to the X-chromosome and vice versa as male and female recombinants of the WT phenotype were obtained from the F2 progenies of GV♂♂ × WT♀♀ and WT♂♂ × GV♀♀, respectively (Tables 1B, 2B). The phenomenon of alleles migrating between the X- and Y-chromosomes as a result of crossing-over was first documented in the guppy by Winge (1923, 1927) and Dzwillo (1959). This confirms that the sex chromosomes of the guppy share undifferentiated regions of homology along their chromatids in which pairing and crossing-over can occur (Winge, 1923, 1934; Winge and Ditlevsen, 1938; Dzwillo, 1959; Nayudu, 1975, 1979; Kirpichnikov, 1981).

A mean crossover frequency of 1.923 (±1.632)% was obtained (Tables 1B, 2B) between the Var locus and sex-determining region (SdR) in the Y-chromosome of male guppies. The phenotypic map distance was thus approximately 1.923 (±1.632) map units. Winge (1927), Winge and Ditlevsen (1947), and Kirpichnikov (1981) proposed that genes found within or close to the SdR are either alleles of one of the same locus (allelomorphic) or belong to the so-called supergene family, i.e., a group of closely located and tightly linked loci with completely suppressed crossing-over. Our results indicate that Var is most likely found in a homologous region about 1.923 map units from the SdR (Tables 1B, 2B). This suggests that Var is situated close to the SdR since crossing-over between other genes, e.g., Vitellinus (Vi) and Elongatus (El), and Doppelschwert (Ds) and Pigmentierte Caudalis (Cp) occur with a frequency of up to 10% (Winge, 1927, 1934; Winge and Ditlevsen, 1947; Dzwillo, 1959; Kirpichnikov, 1981; Purdom, 1993). As initiated by Winge (1927, 1934), and later Winge and Ditlevsen (1947), Dzwillo (1959), Nayudu (1975, 1979), Kirpichnikov (1981), Phang et al. (1989a, b, 1990), Phang and Fernando (1991), and Purdom (1993), the recombinant data for Var and SdR reported here should contribute to the mapping of additional color pattern genes onto the sex chromosomes of the guppy.

In conclusion, the variegated tail pattern gene, Var, of domesticated selected guppy strains (1) shows dominant expression, and is (2) both X- and Y-linked, (3) fully capable of crossing-over from the Y- to the X-chromosome and vice versa, and (4) located about 1.9 map units from the sex-determining region. The variegated tail pattern trait may thus prove valuable as a genetic marker in linkage analyses and investigations of color patterns in the guppy.

Acknowledgments

This project was funded by research grants from the European Commission (CI1*-CT94–0021) and National University of Singapore (RP3930327, RP3972366 and RP3981303) to V.P.E. Phang (P.I.), W.-K. Chan and T.M. Lim.

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Gideon Khoo, Tit Meng Lim, Woon-Khiong Chan, and Violet P. E. Phang "Genetic Basis of the Variegated Tail Pattern in the Guppy, Poecilia reticulata," Zoological Science 16(3), 431-437, (1 June 1999). https://doi.org/10.2108/zsj.16.431
Received: 7 December 1998; Accepted: 1 March 1999; Published: 1 June 1999
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