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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 Jul 21;95(15):8670-5.

Antarctic fish hemoglobins: evidence for adaptive evolution at subzero temperature.

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Dipartimento di Biologia, Università di Padova, Via Ugo Bassi, 58/B I-35131 Padova, Italy.


Notothenioids represent a large group of marine teleosts that are mostly endemic to the Antarctic Ocean. In this environment, the low metabolic demand and the high oxygen concentration reduce the need for hemoglobin(s) [Hb(s)]. The extreme condition is represented by the icefish (Channichthyidae, Notothenioidei), the only vertebrates that lack Hb. We obtained the nucleotide sequence coding for the beta-globin chain of the single major Hb form in six red-blooded notothenioids. These included Gymnodraco acuticeps, one of the closest species to the Hb-less icefish, which is also the only known fish having a single Hb without Bohr effect. This species shows a higher rate of nonsynonymous substitutions (KA), in contrast with the homogeneity of synonymous substitution (KS) rates, and KA/KS ratios significantly greater than one in the majority of comparisons. These results are suggestive of positive selection, diversifying the single major Hb toward specialized functions. A single Hb that is free to diversify means that its role in routine oxygen transport can be reduced in the presence of a combination of physiological, ecological, and environmental factors. Although a reduced "routine" function for Hb, as is apparent in G. acuticeps, might, indeed, evoke the lack of Hb in icefish, evidence of diversifying selection reported here is at variance with the hypothesis of a simple trend from a single Hb toward the Hb-less condition.

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