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Biol Bull. 2018 Dec;235(3):134-151. doi: 10.1086/700181. Epub 2018 Nov 5.

Discovery of Novel Hemocyanin-Like Genes in Metazoans.


Among animals, two major groups of oxygen-binding proteins are found: proteins that use iron to bind oxygen (hemoglobins and hemerythrins) and two non-homologous hemocyanins that use copper. Although arthropod and mollusc hemocyanins bind oxygen in the same manner, they are distinct in their molecular structures. In order to better understand the range of natural variation in hemocyanins, we searched for them in a diverse array of metazoan transcriptomes by using bioinformatics tools to examine hemocyanin evolutionary history and to consequently revive the discussion about whether all metazoan hemocyanins shared a common origin with frequent losses or whether they originated separately after the divergence of Lophotrochozoa and Ecdysozoa. We confirm that the distribution of hemocyanin-like genes is more widespread than previously reported, including five putative novel mollusc hemocyanin genes in two annelid species from Chaetopteridae. For arthropod hemocyanins, 16 putative novel genes were retained, and the presence of arthropod hemocyanins in 11 annelid species represents a novel observation. Interestingly, Annelida is the lineage that presents the greatest repertoire of oxygen transport proteins reported to date, possessing all the main superfamily proteins, which could be explained partially by the immense variability of lifestyles and habitats. Work presented here contradicts the canonical view that hemocyanins are restricted to molluscs and arthropods, suggesting that the occurrence of copper-based blood pigments in metazoans has been underestimated. Our results also support the idea of the presence of oxygen carrier hemocyanins being widespread across metazoans with an evolutionary history characterized by frequent losses.


GO, Gene Ontology; Hbs, hemoglobins; Hc, hemocyanin; HcA, arthropod hemocyanin; HcM, mollusc hemocyanin; Hrs, hemerythrins; PCR, polymerase chain reaction; PE, paired end; p.p., posterior probability; tyr, tyrosinase domain

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