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The molecular evolution of spiggin nesting glue in sticklebacks

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posted on 16.07.2015, 08:49 by Paul Seear, Ezio Rosato, W. P. Goodall-Copestake, Iain Barber
Gene duplication and subsequent divergence can lead to the evolution of new functions and lineage specific traits. In sticklebacks, the successive duplication of the mucin-like gene (MUC19) into a tandemly-arrayed, multi-gene family has enabled the production of copious amounts of ‘spiggin’, a secreted adhesive protein essential for nest construction. Here we examine divergence between spiggin genes among three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) from ancestral marine and derived freshwater populations, and propose underpinning gene duplication mechanisms. Sanger sequencing revealed substantial diversity among spiggin transcripts, including alternatively spliced variants and interchromosomal spiggin chimeric genes. Comparative analysis of the sequenced transcripts and all other spiggin genes in the public domain support the presence of three main spiggin lineages (spiggin A, spiggin B and spiggin C) with further subdivisions within spiggin B (B1, B2) and spiggin C (C1, C2). Spiggin A had diverged least from the ancestral MUC19, while the spiggin C duplicates had diversified most substantially. In silico translations of the spiggin gene open reading frames predicted that spiggin A and B are secreted as long mucin-like polymers, while spiggin C1 and C2 are secreted as short monomers, with putative anti-microbial properties. We propose that diversification of duplicated spiggin genes has facilitated local adaptation of spiggin to a range of aquatic habitats.


This study was funded by the UK NERC [grant NE/F019440/1, to I.B. and E.R.], the University of Leicester, and the European Union ASSEMBLE access to marine research infrastructure fund [grant 227799, to I.B.].



Molecular Ecology, 2015, 24 (7), pp. 4474-4488

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF MEDICINE, BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES AND PSYCHOLOGY/School of Biological Sciences/Department of Biology


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All spiggin sequences in this study including genomic DNA sequences, cDNA transcripts and M13 forward and reverse sequences have been submitted to the DDBJ/EMBL/GenBank databases under accession numbers AB909965–AB910047, AB936833-AB936834, JZ555463- JZ555920, JZ583854-JZ584097 and dbEST: 78920304-78920761, 79255600-79255843. All sequence alignments are available from the Dryad Digital Repository: http://dx.doi.org/10.5061/dryad.pc5n9