The pufferfish known as the Torafugu (Takifugu rubripes) has at least two claims to fame. First, the genome of this species was the first vertebrate genome to be sequenced and made publicly available after the human genome. Pufferfish genomes are the smallest known for vertebrates, only around 400 Mb (about an eighth the size of the human genome). Pufferfishes were suggested as appealing "model" vertebrates for genomic analysis in part because, although compact, their genomes have essentially the same genes and regulatory sequences as other vertebrates, so less effort is needed to obtain a comparable amount of information (Brenner et al. 1993). Analysis of the Torafugu genome together with the genomes of another pufferfish,Tetraodon nigroviridis, and other vertebrates have provided new insights into the evolution of vertebrates (e.g., Jaillon et al. 2004). For technical information about the Torafugu genome, visit the Fugu Genome Project webpage.
Torafugus's second claim to fame is as a dangerous delicacy in Japan. Fugu is a Japanese dish prepared in various ways from certain species of pufferfish (Takifugu, Lagocephalus, Sphoeroides) or porcupinefish (Diodon)--but especialy from Ta. rubripes. What makes fugu so exciting and sets it apart from other fish sold in restaurants is that it is potentially deadly. Fugu can contain lethal amounts of the poison tetrodotoxin (TTX) in its organs, especially the liver and ovaries, and also in the skin. The poison paralyzes the muscles while the victim remains fully conscious until eventually dying from asphyxiation. There is no known antidote. Even miniscule traces of the toxin are said to cause the diner’s lips to go numb and turn his mind to the possibility that this could be his last meal. With the stakes so high, chefs must be highly trained to prepare fugu and it is not widely available outside Japan—in fact, it is illegal to sell it in most or all of the European Union and its preparation and sale is tightly regulated in the United States.
Different pufferfish species and different body parts vary substantially in their TTX concentration (Noguchi and Arakawa 2008). Some recent research has indicated that the toxin may be derived from TTX-laden bacteria working their way up the food chain to the pufferfish, making safe-to-eat farmed fugu a possibility (e.g., see Noguchi and Arakawa 2008; Yuan et al. 2011). Some purists, predictably, insist that the taste of farmed fugu cannot compare with the sublime flavor of the wild fish—or could it just be the lack of adrenaline in the diner’s body that tames the flavor of poison-free farmed fugu? Food writer Adam Platt's 2008 account of dining on fugu in Tokyo can be read in New York Magazine.
The genus Takifugu includes around two dozen species, all of which are found in marine waters around China, Korea, and Japan, although additional morphological and genetic analyses are needed to resolve some taxonomic questions (e.g., see Song et al 2001; Reza et al 2008). Yamanoue et al. (2008) used whole mitochondrial genome sequences from 15 Takifugu species and eight other tetraodontid pufferfishes (plus two outgroups.) to investigate phylogenetics relationships within this Takifugu. Their analyses indicated that Takifugu species are very closely related to each other and speciated over a relatively short period in the limited area of the East Asian marine waters.
Diseases and Parasites
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Takifugu rubripes
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Takifugu rubripes
Public Records: 9
Specimens with Barcodes: 17
Species With Barcodes: 1
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Takifugu rubripes (the Japanese puffer, Tiger puffer, or torafugu (Japanese: 虎河豚), also known as Fugu rubripes) is a pufferfish in the genus Takifugu. A feature of this species is that it has a very small genome, which is used as a ‘reference’ for identifying genes and other elements in human and other vertebrate genomes. The genome was published in 2002, the first vertebrate genome to be made publicly available after the human genome.
- Aparicio S, Chapman J, Stupka E, Putnam N, Chia JM, Dehal P, Christoffels A, Rash S, Hoon S, Smit A et al. (2002). "Whole-genome shotgun assembly and analysis of the genome of Fugu rubripes". Science 297: 1301–1310. doi:10.1126/science.1072104. PMID 12142439.
- Keiichi Matsuura (1990). "The pufferfish genus Fugu Abe, 1952, a junior subjective synonym of Takifugu Abe, 1949". Bull. Natn. Sci. Mus., Tokyo, Ser. A. 16: 15–20.
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