Genome Evolution in Polar Fishes
Fish that reside in the harsh, subfreezing waters of the Antarctic and Arctic provide fascinating examples of adaptation to extreme environments. Species at both poles have independently evolved ways to deal with constant cold temperature, including the evolution of antifreeze proteins. Under freezing conditions, these compounds attach to ice crystals and prevent their growth. This lowers the tissue freezing point and reduces the chance the animal will be injured or killed. While it might seem that the need for unique adaptations to survive in polar waters would reduce species diversity in these habitats, recent evidence showed higher speciation rates in fishes from polar environments as compared to those found in warmer waters. This is despite the fact cold temperatures slow cellular processes, which had been expected to lower rates of molecular evolution in these species. To determine how rates of speciation and molecular evolution are linked in marine fishes, this project will compare the genomes of multiple polar and non-polar fishes. By doing so, it will (1) clarify how rates of evolution vary in polar environments, (2) identify general trends that shape the adaptive trajectories of polar fishes, and (3) determine how functional differences shape the evolution of novel compounds such as the antifreeze proteins some polar fishes rely upon to survive. In addition to training a new generation of scientists, the project will develop curriculum and outreach activities for elementary and undergraduate science courses. Materials will be delivered in classrooms across the western United States, with a focus on rural schools as part of a network for promoting evolutionary education in rural communities. To better understand the biology of polar fishes and the evolution of antifreeze proteins (AFPs), this research will compare the evolutionary histories of cold-adapted organisms to those of related non-polar species from both a genotypic and phenotypic context. In doing so, this research will test whether evolutionary rates are slowed in polar environments, perhaps due to constraints on cellular processes. It will also evaluate the effects of positive selection and the relaxation of selection on genes and pathways, both of which appear to be key adaptive strategies involved in the adaptation to polar environments. To address specific mechanisms by which extreme adaptation occurs, researchers will determine how global gradients of temperature and dissolved oxygen shape genome variation and influence adaptive trajectories among multiple species of eelpouts (family Zoarcidae). An in-vitro experimental approach will then be used to test functional hypotheses about the role of copy number variation in AFP evolution, and how and why multiple antifreeze protein isoforms have evolved. By comparing the genomes of multiple polar and non-polar fishes, the project will clarify how rates of evolution vary in polar environments, identify general trends that shape the adaptive trajectories of cold-adapted marine fishes, and determine how functional differences shape the evolution of novel proteins. This project addresses the strategic programmatic aim to provide a better understanding of the genetic underpinnings of organismal adaptations to their current environment and ways in which polar fishes may respond to changing conditions over different evolutionary time scales. The project is jointly funded by the Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Program in the Office of Polar Programs of the Geosciences Directorate, and the Molecular Biophysics Program of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences in the Biological Sciences Directorate.
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