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    Hemocyanin is the oxygen transporter of most molluscs. Since the oxygen affinity of hemocyanin is strongly temperature-dependent, this essential protein needs to be well-adapted to the environment. In Tectipleura, a very diverse group of gastropods with > 27,000 species living in all kinds of habitats, several hemocyanin genes have already been analyzed. Multiple independent duplications of this gene have been identified and may represent potential adaptations to different environments and lifestyles. The aim of this study is to further explore the evolution of these genes by analyzing their exon-intron architectures. We have reconstructed the gene architectures of ten hemocyanin genes from four Tectipleura species: Aplysia californica, Lymnaea stagnalis, Cornu aspersum and Helix pomatia. Their hemocyanin genes each contain 53 introns, significantly more than in the hemocyanin genes of Cephalopoda (9-11), Vetigastropoda (15) and Caenogastropoda (28-33). The gene structures of Tectipleura hemocyanins are identical in terms of intron number and location, with the exception of one out of two hemocyanin genes of L. stagnalis that comprises one additional intron. We found that gene structures that differ between molluscan lineages most probably evolved more recently through independent intron gains. The strict conservation of the large number of introns in Tectipleura hemocyanin genes over 200 million years suggests the influence of a selective pressure on this gene structure. While we could not identify conserved sequence motifs within these introns, it may be simply the great number of introns that offers increased possibilities of gene regulation relative to hemocyanin genes with less introns and thus may have facilitated habitat shifts and speciation events. This hypothesis is supported by the relatively high number of introns within the hemocyanin genes of Pomacea canaliculata that has evolved independently of the Tectipleura. Pomacea canaliculata belongs to the Caenogastropoda, the sister group of Heterobranchia (that encompass Tectipleura) which is also very diverse and comprises species living in different habitats. Our findings provide a hint to some of the molecular mechanisms that may have supported the spectacular radiation of one of Metazoa's most species rich groups.


    Gabriela Giannina Schäfer, Veronika Pedrini-Martha, Daniel John Jackson, Reinhard Dallinger, Bernhard Lieb. The evolution of hemocyanin genes in Tectipleura: a multitude of conserved introns in highly diverse gastropods. BMC ecology and evolution. 2021 Mar 04;21(1):36

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    PMID: 33663373

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