Conservation of globin genes in the "living fossil" Latimeria chalumnae and reconstruction of the evolution of the vertebrate globin family.

Research paper by Kim K Schwarze, Thorsten T Burmester

Indexed on: 31 Jan '13Published on: 31 Jan '13Published in: Biochimica et biophysica acta


The (hemo-)globins are among the best-investigated proteins in biomedical sciences. These small heme-proteins play an important role in oxygen supply, but may also have other functions. In addition to well known hemoglobin and myoglobin, six other vertebrate globin types have been identified in recent years: neuroglobin, cytoglobin, globin E, globin X, globin Y, and androglobin. Analyses of the genome of the "living fossil" Latimeria chalumnae show that the coelacanth is the only known vertebrate that includes all eight globin types. Thus, Latimeria can also be considered as a "globin fossil". Analyses of gene synteny and phylogenetic reconstructions allow us to trace the evolution and the functional changes of the vertebrate globin family. Neuroglobin and globin X diverged from the other globin types before the separation of Protostomia and Deuterostomia. The cytoglobins, which are unlikely to be involved in O2 supply, form the earliest globin branch within the jawed vertebrates (Gnathostomata), but do not group with the agnathan hemoglobins, as it has been proposed before. There is strong evidence from phylogenetic reconstructions and gene synteny that the eye-specific globin E and muscle-specific myoglobin constitute a common clade, suggesting a similar role in intracellular O2 supply. Latimeria possesses two α- and two β-hemoglobin chains, of which one α-chain emerged prior to the divergence of Actinopterygii and Sarcopterygii, but has been retained only in the coelacanth. Notably, the embryonic hemoglobin α-chains of Gnathostomata derive from a common ancestor, while the embryonic β-chains - with the exception of a more complex pattern in the coelacanth and amphibians - display a clade-specific evolution. Globin Y is associated with the hemoglobin gene cluster, but its phylogenetic position is not resolved. Our data show an early divergence of distinct globin types in the vertebrate evolution before the emergence of tetrapods. The subsequent loss of globins in certain taxa may be associated with changes in the oxygen-dependent metabolism. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Oxygen Binding and Sensing Proteins.