Prevalence and polymorphism of a mussel transmissible cancer in Europe

Transmissible cancers
Population genetics

Hammel, Simon, Arbiol, Villalba, Burioli, Pépin, Lamy, Benabdelmouna, Bernard, Houssin, Charrière, Destoumieux-Garzon, Welch, Metzger & Bierne


Citation (APA 7)

Hammel, M., Simon, A., Arbiol, C., Villalba, A., Burioli, E. A. V., Pépin, J.-F., Lamy, J.-B., Benabdelmouna, A., Bernard, I., Houssin, M., Charrière, G. M., Destoumieux-Garzon, D., Welch, J. J., Metzger, M. J., & Bierne, N. (2022). Prevalence and polymorphism of a mussel transmissible cancer in Europe. Molecular Ecology, 31(3), 736–751.


Transmissible cancers are parasitic malignant cell lineages that have acquired the ability to infect new hosts from the same species, or sometimes related species. First described in dogs and Tasmanian devils, transmissible cancers were later discovered in some marine bivalves affected by a leukaemia-like disease. In Mytilus mussels, two lineages of bivalve transmissible neoplasia (BTN) have been described to date (MtrBTN1 and MtrBTN2), both of which emerged in a Mytilus trossulus founder individual. Here, we performed extensive screening of genetic chimerism, a hallmark of transmissible cancer, by genotyping 106 single nucleotide polymorphisms of 5,907 European Mytilus mussels. Genetic analysis allowed us to simultaneously obtain the genotype of hosts – Mytilus edulis, M. galloprovincialis or hybrids – and the genotype of tumours of heavily infected individuals. In addition, a subset of 222 individuals were systematically genotyped and analysed by histology to screen for possible nontransmissible cancers. We detected MtrBTN2 at low prevalence in M. edulis, and also in M. galloprovincialis and hybrids although at a much lower prevalence. No MtrBTN1 or new BTN were found, but eight individuals with nontransmissible neoplasia were observed at a single polluted site on the same sampling date. We observed a diversity of MtrBTN2 genotypes that appeared more introgressed or more ancestral than MtrBTN1 and reference healthy M. trossulus individuals. The observed polymorphism is probably due to somatic null alleles caused by structural variations or point mutations in primer-binding sites leading to enhanced detection of the host alleles. Despite low prevalence, two sublineages divergent by 10% fixed somatic null alleles and one nonsynonymous mtCOI (mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I) substitution are cospreading in the same geographical area, suggesting a complex diversification of MtrBTN2 since its emergence and host species shift.