The deep sea is full of creatures adapted to tight environments, and a new study describes how biofluorescent snailfish off Greenland use antifreeze proteins to keep themselves alive in cold waters.
Researchers from the American Museum of Natural History and the City University of New York wanted to learn how snails in an iceberg habitat off the coast of East Greenland survived in water at about 28.4 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 degrees Celsius). They sequenced the minor’s RNA Liparis gibbus –better known as colorful snail – and found that fish rely on high levels of special proteins to limit the formation of ice crystals in their bodies. Their work Published in the journal Evolutionary Bioinformatics.
“There is a wide variety of mechanisms that different animals have evolved to cope with extreme cold,” study author David Gruber told Gizmodo in an email. “Antifreeze proteins prevent the formation of large ice crystals in their bodies. Other strategies, such as cytoprotectants, help minimize cell shrinkage, and other adaptations help preserve membrane structure.
Snails produce proteins in the liver and distribute them into the blood. Antifreeze proteins do not completely prevent the formation of ice crystals, but instead limit their growth to “manageable sizes,” as described in the article.
Gruber, a research fellow at the American Museum of Natural History and a CUNY professor, along with co-author John Sparks, observed the snails glowing green and red during an August 2019 expedition. That was it First documentation of biofluorescence in Arctic fish.
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“When we discovered that the snailfish was biofluorescent, we sequenced its entire transcriptome to look for the gene responsible for its fluorescent protein,” Gruber said. “While we did not locate this gene, we noticed that some of the most highly expressed genes were related to antifreeze proteins.”
Since these fish are optimized for freezing waters, the researchers are concerned about what will happen to the snailfish as ocean temperatures warm. While the snailfish can survive in warmer waters, those warmer waters will bring biodiversity into higher latitudes—potentially threatening their role in the food chain.
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