Glowing fish are full of antifreeze to survive the cold water


A variety of snailfish are packed with naturally occurring antifreeze proteins at previously unseen levels that help it survive in subzero waters, according to new research. The snailfish, known as Liparis gibus, is Too Distinctive thanks to biofluorescence, which makes it glow green and red.

Study authors David Gruber and John Sparks, both research American Museum of Natural History scientists In New York City, Constantine S. Niarchos was on Scientific expedition in 2019 when they spied a glowing snail off the coast of East Greenland.

Biofluorescence occurs when animals have the ability to convert blue light into green, red or yellow. This feature is incredibly rare in arctic fish, which live in the dark for long periods of time. So far, the only known polar fish with this glow is a variety of snailfish.

Gruber and Sparks collected a juvenile snail – about 3/4 inch (1.9 cm) long – about the size of a fingernail – compared to the average 4.5-inch (11.4-centimeter) length of an adult.

Scientists wanted to learn more about the snail’s biofluorescent properties when they stumbled upon something else in the genetics of fish: the highest expression level of antifreeze protein ever observed.

“Just as the antifreeze in your car prevents the water in your radiator from freezing in cold temperatures, some animals have evolved amazing machinery that protects them from freezing, such as antifreeze proteins, which prevent ice crystals from forming, Gruber, a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History and distinguished professor of biology at the City University of New York’s Baruch College, said in a statement.

“We already knew that this tiny snail, which lives in extremely cold water, produced antifreeze proteins, but we didn’t know how loaded it is with those proteins – and how much it takes to make these proteins. was trying .”

As Arctic waters continue to warm due to the climate crisis, however, the future of various types of snails, with remarkable adaptations to the cold, remains uncertain. Study co-author John Burns, senior research scientist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science in East Boothbay, Maine.

magazine evolutionary bioinformatics The findings were published on Tuesday.
David Gruber (left) and John Sparks (right) examine an iceberg in East Greenland.David Gruber (left) and John Sparks (right) examine an iceberg in East Greenland.

The polar oceans are the extreme environment for marine life and only those organisms that have adapted to live within cold temperatures can survive there.

Some species of insects and reptiles can survive if they experience partial freezing of their body fluids, but Can’t fish. Antifreeze proteins, which are mainly produced in the liver, prevent large ice granules from building up in their cells and body fluids.

Scientists first discovered the antifreeze protein in fish about 50 years ago. The researchers traced the proteins to five different genetic families.

The snailfish is particularly interesting because it has two distinct gene families that encode antifreeze proteins: type I and type IV.

“Genes coding for type I antifreeze proteins are a recent addition to the fish genome and can actively expand into additional copies,” Burns said. “It’s like capturing development in action.”

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The fact that scientists uncovered so much genetic detail in a juvenile snail has a bearing on what happens as the fish grows and develops, Burns said.

“We see that in addition to growth, this juvenile fish must also invest heavily in protecting itself from the cold,” Burns said. “The fish is making amounts of RNA for cold protection, which invest in the fundamental cellular machinery, the stuff that makes its cells in the first place.”

Until now, scientists do not know whether there is a connection between biofluorescence and antifreeze proteins.

But warmer temperatures in the Arctic could pose a threat to the organisms that have adapted to survive there — meaning any energy they put into protection from the cold is wasted effort, Burns said.

An iceberg habitat in Greenland served as the study site, where researchers collected a juvenile specimen of Liparis gibbous. An iceberg habitat in Greenland served as the study site, where researchers collected a juvenile specimen of Liparis gibbous.

Some scientists predict that if Arctic sea ice continues to shrink at its current rate, the Arctic will become ice-free in the next three decades, according to the study authors.

“Arctic seas do not support a high diversity of fish species, and our study predicts that with increasingly warming ocean temperatures, ice-dwelling specialists such as this snail may face increased competition by more temperate species that previously These were unable to survive at high northern latitudes,” said Sparks, curator in the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Ichthyology and professor at the museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, in a statement.

Burns said understanding more about antifreeze proteins could help scientists translate their findings into biotech uses, such as protecting crops from frost or better determining the freezing properties of meat.


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