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Molecular evolution of haemoglobins of polar fishes

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The Arctic and the Antarctic differ by age and isolation of the respective marine faunas. Antarctic fish are highly stenothermal, in response to stable water temperatures, whereas the Arctic ones are exposed to seasonal and latitudinal temperature variations. The knowledge of the mechanisms of phenotypic response to cold exposure in species of both polar habitats offers fundamental insights into the nature of environmental adaptation. In the process of cold adaptation, the evolutionary trend of Antarctic fish has led to unique specialisations, including modification of haematological characteristics, e.g. decreased amounts and multiplicity of haemoglobins.

Unlike Antarctic Notothenioidei, Arctic teleosts have high haemoglobin multiplicity. Although the presence of  functionally and structurally distinct haemoglobins is a plesiomorphic condition for many perciform-like fishes, it seems that the oxygen-transport system of teleost fish in the Arctic region has been adjusted to temperature differences and fluctuations of Arctic waters, much larger than in the Antarctic. The aminoacid sequences used to gain insight into the evolution history of a and b globins of polar fish have clearly shown that Antarctic and Arctic globins have different phylogenies, leading to the hypothesis that the selective pressure of environment stability allows the phylogenetic signal to be maintained in the Antarctic sequences, whereas environmental variability would tend to disrupt this signal in Arctic sequences.

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