Organisms engage in extensive cross-species molecular dialog, yet the underlying molecular actors are known for only a few interactions. Many techniques have been designed to uncover genes involved in signaling between organisms. Typically, these focus on only one of the partners. We developed an expression quantitative trait locus (eQTL) mapping-based approach to identify cause-and-effect relationships between genes from two partners engaged in an interspecific interaction. We demonstrated the approach by assaying expression of 98 isogenic plants (Medicago truncatula), each inoculated with a genetically distinct line of the diploid parasitic nematode Meloidogyne hapla. With this design, systematic differences in gene expression across host plants could be mapped to genetic polymorphisms of their infecting parasites. The effects of parasite genotypes on plant gene expression were often substantial, with up to 90-fold (P = 3.2 x 10(-52)) changes in expression levels caused by individual parasite loci. Mapped loci included a number of pleiotropic sites, including one 87-kb parasite locus that modulated expression of >60 host genes. The 213 host genes identified were substantially enriched for transcription factors. We distilled higher-order connections between polymorphisms and genes from both species via network inference. To replicate our results and test whether effects were conserved across a broader host range, we performed a confirmatory experiment using M. hapla-infected tomato. This revealed that homologous genes were similarly affected. Finally, to validate the broader utility of cross-species eQTL mapping, we applied the strategy to data from a Salmonella infection study, successfully identifying polymorphisms in the human genome affecting bacterial expression.
Networks underpinning symbiosis revealed through cross-species eQTL mapping