The immune system of ectotherms, particularly non-avian reptiles, remains poorly characterized regarding the genes involved in immune function, and their function in wild populations. We used RNA-Seq to explore the systemic response of Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) gene expression to three levels of Mycoplasma infection to better understand the host response to this bacterial pathogen. We found over an order of magnitude more genes differentially expressed between male and female tortoises (1,037 genes) than differentially expressed among immune groups (40 genes). There were 8 genes differentially expressed among both variables that can be considered sex-biased immune genes in this tortoise. Among experimental immune groups we find enriched GO biological processes for cysteine catabolism, regulation of type 1 interferon production, and regulation of cytokine production involved in immune response. Sex-biased transcription involves iron ion transport, iron ion homeostasis, and regulation of interferon-beta production to be enriched. More detailed work is needed to assess the seasonal response of the candidate genes found here. How seasonal fluctuation of testosterone and corticosterone modulate the immunosuppression of males and their susceptibility to Mycoplasma infection also warrants further investigation, as well as the importance of iron in the immune function and sex-biased differences of this species. Finally, future transcriptional studies should avoid drawing blood from tortoises via subcarapacial venipuncture as the variable aspiration of lymphatic fluid will confound the differential expression of genes.
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