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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Mar 14; 92(6): 1817–1821.

Genomic remnants of alpha-globin genes in the hemoglobinless antarctic icefishes.


Alone among piscine taxa, the antarctic icefishes (family Channichthyidae, suborder Notothenioidei) have evolved compensatory adaptations that maintain normal metabolic functions in the absence of erythrocytes and the respiratory oxygen transporter hemoglobin. Although the uniquely "colorless" or "white" condition of the blood of icefishes has been recognized since the early 20th century, the status of globin genes in the icefish genomes has, surprisingly, remained unexplored. Using alpha- and beta-globin cDNAs from the antarctic rockcod Notothenia coriiceps (family Nototheniidae, suborder Notothenioidei), we have probed the genomes of three white-blooded icefishes and four red-blooded notothenioid relatives (three antarctic, one temperate) for globin-related DNA sequences. We detect specific, high-stringency hybridization of the alpha-globin probe to genomic DNAs of both white- and red-blooded species, whereas the beta-globin cDNA hybridizes only to the genomes of the red-blooded fishes. Our results suggest that icefishes retain inactive genomic remnants of alpha-globin genes but have lost, either through deletion or through rapid mutation, the gene that encodes beta-globin. We propose that the hemoglobinless phenotype of extant icefishes is the result of deletion of the single adult beta-globin locus prior to the diversification of the clade.

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