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FEBS J. 2012 Jun;279(12):2215-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-4658.2012.08605.x. Epub 2012 May 22.

Antifreeze protein gene amplification facilitated niche exploitation and speciation in wolffish.

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Ocean Sciences Centre, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John's, NL, Canada.


During winter, the coastal waters of Newfoundland can be considered a 'freeze risk ecozone' for teleost fishes, where the shallower habitats pose a high (and the deeper habitats a low) risk of freezing. Atlantic (Anarhichas lupus) and spotted (Anarhichas minor) wolffish, which inhabit these waters, reside at opposite ends of this ecozone, with the Atlantic wolffish being the species facing the greatest risk, because of its shallower niche. In order to resist freezing, this species secretes five times the level of antifreeze protein (AFP) activity into the plasma than does the spotted wolffish. The main basis for this interspecific difference in AFP levels is gene dosage, as the Atlantic wolffish has approximately three times as many AFP gene copies as the spotted wolffish. In addition, AFP transcript levels in liver (the primary source of circulating AFPs) are several times higher in the Atlantic wolffish. One explanation for the difference in gene dosage and transcript levels is the presence of tandemly arrayed repeats in the latter, which make up two-thirds of its AFP gene pool. Such repeats are not present in the spotted wolffish. The available evidence indicates that the two species diverged from a common ancestor at a time when the ebb and flow of northern glaciations would have resulted in the emergence of shallow water 'freeze risk ecozones'. The results of this study suggest that the duplication/amplification of AFP genes in a subpopulation of ancestral wolffish would have facilitated the exploitation of this high-risk habitat, resulting in the divergence and evolution of modern-day Atlantic and spotted wolffish species.

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