The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, validates a decades-old hypothesis about a key mechanism of evolution. The study also confirms the ancestry of a family of “antifreeze proteins” that helps the Antarctic eelpout survive in the frigid waters of the Southern Ocean.
“I’m always asking the question of where these antifreeze proteins come from,” said University of Illinois animal biology professor Christina Cheng, who has spent three decades studying the genetic adaptations that enable Antarctic fish to survive in one of the coldest zones on the planet. “The cell usually does not create new proteins from scratch.”
Scientists have known since 2001 that the sequence of genes coding for a family of antifreeze proteins (known as AFP III) was very similar to part of a sequence of a gene that codes for a cellular enzyme in humans. Since Antarctic fish also produce this enzyme, sialic acid synthase (SAS), it was thought that the genes for these antifreeze proteins had somehow evolved from a duplicate copy of the SAS gene. But no study had shown how this happened with solid experimental data.
Cheng and her colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences began by comparing the sequences of the SAS and AFP III genes.
There are two SAS genes in fish: SAS-A and SAS-B. The researchers confirmed that the AFP III genes contain sequences that are most similar to those in a region of SAS-B.
They also found a sequence in the SAS-B gene that, when translated into a new protein, could – with a few modifications – direct the cell to secrete the protein. This slightly modified signal sequence also appears in the AFP III genes. Unlike the SAS enzymes, which remain inside the cell, the AFP III proteins are secreted into the blood or extracellular fluid, where they can more easily disrupt the growth of invading ice crystals.
“This basically demonstrates how something that ‘lives’ inside the cell can acquire this new functionality and get moved out into the bloodstream to do something else,” Cheng said.
Further analysis revealed that the SAS proteins function as enzymes but also have modest ice-binding capabilities. This finding supports a decades-old hypothesis that states that when a single gene begins to develop more than one function, duplication of that gene could result in the divergent evolution of the original gene and its duplicate.
The new finding also supports the proposed mechanism, called “escape from adaptive conflict,” by which this can occur. According to this idea, if a gene has more than one function, mutations or other changes to the gene through natural selection that enhance one function may undermine its other function.
“The original enzyme function and the emerging ice-binding function of the ancestral SAS molecule might conflict with each other,” Cheng said. When the SAS-B gene became duplicated as a result of a copying error or some other random event in the cell, she said, then each of the duplicate genes was freed from the conflict and “could go on its own evolutionary path.”
“This is the first clear demonstration – with strong supporting molecular and functional evidence – of escape from adaptive conflict as the underlying process of gene duplication and the creation of a completely new function in one of the daughter copies,” Cheng said. “This has not been documented before in the field of molecular evolution.”
Cheng said that even before the gene for the secreted antifreeze protein was formed, the original SAS protein appears to have had both the enzymatic and ice-binding functions. This suggests that somehow the SAS protein (which is not secreted) acted within the cell to disrupt the growth of ice.
This could have occurred “in the early developmental stages of the fish,” Cheng said, since the eggs are spawned into a cold environment and would benefit from even the modest antifreeze capabilities of the SAS protein.
Later, after the SAS gene was duplicated and the AFP gene went on its own evolutionary path, Cheng said, the antifreeze protein appears to have evolved into a secreted protein, allowing it to disrupt ice formation in the bloodstream and extracellular fluid, where it would be of most benefit to the adult fish.
The National Science Foundation and the Chinese Academy of Sciences supported this research.
Diana Yates | University of Illinois
Newly discovered bacteria-binding protein in the intestine
08.12.2016 | University of Gothenburg
The balancing act: An enzyme that links endocytosis to membrane recycling
07.12.2016 | National Centre for Biological Sciences
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy