Astyanax mexicanus, a teleost fish that exists in a river-dwelling surface form and multiple cave-dwelling forms, is an excellent system for studying the genetic basis of evolution. Cavefish populations, which independently evolved from surface fish ancestors multiple times, have evolved a number of morphological and behavioral traits. Quantitative trait loci (QTL) analyses have been performed to identify the genetic basis of many of these traits. These studies, combined with recent sequencing of the genome, provide a unique opportunity to identify candidate genes for these cave-specific traits. However, tools to test the requirement of these genes must be established to evaluate the role of candidate genes in generating cave-specific traits. To address this need, we designed transcription activatorlike effector nucleases (TALENs) to target two genes that contain coding changes in cavefish relative to surface fish and map to the same location as QTL for pigmentation, oculocutaneous albinism 2 (oca2) and melanocortin 1 receptor (mc1r). We found that surface fish genes can be mutated using this method. TALEN-induced mutations in oca2 result in mosaic loss of melanin pigmentation visible as albino patches in F0 founder fish, suggesting biallelic gene mutations in F0s and allowing us to evaluate the role of this gene in pigmentation. The pigment cells in the albino patches can produce melanin upon treatment with L-DOPA, behaving similarly to pigment cells in albino cavefish and providing additional evidence that oca2 is the gene within the QTL responsible for albinism in cavefish. This technology has the potential to introduce a powerful tool for studying the role of candidate genes responsible for the evolution of cavefish traits.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/jeffrey_essner/8/