UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Variable gene transcription underlies phenotypic convergence of hypoxia tolerance in sculpins Mandic, Milica; Ramon, Marina L.; Gerstein, Aleeza C.; Gracey, Andrew Y.; Richards, Jeffrey G.


Background: The degree by which mechanisms underlying phenotypic convergence are similar among taxa depends on the number of evolutionary paths available for selection to act upon. Likelihood of convergence will be influenced by an interplay of factors such as genetic architecture, phylogenetic history and population demography. To determine if there is convergence or divergence in mechanisms underlying phenotypic similarity, we assessed whether gene transcription patterns differed among species with similar levels of hypoxia tolerance. Results: Three species of marine fish from the superfamily Cottoidea (smoothhead sculpin [Artedius lateralis], sailfin sculpin [Nautichthys oculofasciatus] and Pacific staghorn sculpin [Leptocottus armatus]), all of which have previously been shown to share the same level of hypoxia tolerance, were exposed to short-(8 h) and longer-term (72 h) hypoxia and mRNA transcripts were assessed using a custom microarray. We examined hypoxia-induced transcription patterns in metabolic and protein production pathways and found that a high proportion of genes associated with these biological processes showed significant differences among the species. Specifically, the data suggest that the smoothhead sculpin, unlike the sailfin sculpin and the Pacific staghorn sculpin, relied on amino acid degradation rather than glycolysis or fatty acid oxidation to generate ATP during hypoxia exposure. There was also variation across the species in the transcription of genes involved in protein production (e.g. mRNA processing and protein translation), such that it increased in the smoothhead sculpin, decreased in the sailfin sculpin and was variable in the Pacific staghorn sculpin. Conclusions: Changes in metabolic and protein production pathways are part of the key responses of fishes to exposures to environmental hypoxia. Yet, species with similar overall hypoxia tolerance exhibited different transcriptional responses in these pathways, indicating flexibility and complexity of interactions in the evolution of the mechanisms underlying the hypoxia tolerance phenotype. The variation in the hypoxia-induced transcription of genes across species with similar hypoxia tolerance suggests that similar whole-animal phenotypes can emerge from divergent evolutionary paths that may affect metabolically important functions.

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