||1 : Ifremer, Labex Corail, Ctr Pacifique, EIO,UMR 241, BP 49, F-98719 Tahiti, French Polynesi, France.
Understanding the respective roles played by donor and recipient pearl oysters in pearl quality determination in relation to the environment is a challenge for the pearl industry. In most Pinctada species, pearl size is mainly related to recipient oyster growth performance, but also relies to some extent on the biomineralisation activity of the pearl sac, a tissue that originates from the donor oyster mantle. We examined donor effect on pearl size in response to culture in the lagoons on Arutua and Apataki atolls. Overall nacre weight and thickness were greater in Arutua than in Apataki, but sensitivity to the environment differed between donors. Some donors were associated with significantly heavier and thicker nacre in Arutua (I group), while others had similar results at the two sites (NI group). On average, up to 20% of the pearl size could be attributed to the donor but, in group I, donor effect was responsible for up to 36% of nacre weight determination. Additionally, a real-time PCR expression study of eight matrix protein genes related to biomineralisation in the pearl sac showed that MSI60, pearlin and pif177 were significantly and positively correlated with nacre weight and thickness, with the latter two genes explaining the larger pearl size observed in Arutua. Donor oysters in P. margaritifera therefore play a key role in pearl size improvement, related to the role of the shell matrix protein genes. Understanding such contributions could help in the design of genetic selection plans for specific and adapted donor oyster lines.