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Evolution of duplications in the transferrin family of proteins.

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Department of Biology, Chatham College, Woodland Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15232, USA.


The transferrin family is a group of proteins, defined by conserved amino acid motifs and putative function, found in both vertebrates and invertebrates. Included in this group are molecules known to bind iron, including serum transferrin, ovotransferrin, lactotransferrin, and melanotransferrin (MTF). Additional members of this family include inhibitor of carbonic anhydrase (ICA; mammals), major yolk protein (sea urchins), saxiphilin (frog), pacifastin (crayfish), and TTF-1 (algae). Most family members contain two lobes (N and C) of around 340 amino acids, the result of an ancient duplication event. In this article, we review the known functions of these proteins and speculate as to when the different homologs arose. From multiple-sequence alignments and neighbor-joining trees using 71 transferrin family sequences from 51 different species, including several novel sequences found in the Takifugu and Ciona genome databases, we conclude that melanotransferrins are much older (>670 MY) and more pervasive than previously thought, and the serum transferrin/melanotransferrin split may have occurred not long after lobe duplication. All subsequent duplication events diverged from the serum transferrin gene. The creation of such a large multiple-sequence alignment provides important information and could, in the future, highlight the role of specific residues in protein function.

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