Ice-Binding Proteins in a Chrysophycean Snow Alga: Acquisition of an Essential Gene by Horizontal Gene Transfer

James Raymond, Daniel Remias

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14 Citations (Scopus)


All ice-associated algae examined so far have genes for ice-binding proteins (IBPs), which suggest that these proteins are essential for survival in icy habitats. The most common type of IBP, type 1 IBPs (also referred to as DUF3494 IBPs), is also found in ice-associated bacteria and fungi. Previous studies have suggested that algal IBP genes were acquired by horizontal transfer from other microorganisms (probably bacteria). However, it remains unclear whether this is also the case for algae distantly related to the ones examined so far and whether microorganisms other than bacteria could be the donors. Furthermore, there is only limited evidence that these proteins are expressed at low temperature. Here, we show that Kremastochrysopsis austriaca (Chrysophyceae), an Austrian snow alga that is not closely related to any of the ice-associated algae examined so far, also produces IBPs, although their activity was weak. Sequencing the algal genome and the transcriptomes of cells grown at 1 and 15°C revealed three isoforms of a type 1 IBP. In agreement with their putative function, the three isoforms were strongly upregulated by one to two orders of magnitude at 1°C compared to 15°C. In a phylogenetic tree, the K. austriaca IBPs were distant from other algal IBPs, with the closest matches being bacterial proteins. These results suggest that the K. austriaca IBPs were derived from a gene that was acquired from a bacterium unrelated to other IBP donor bacteria and confirm by their presence in yet another alga the essential role of algal IBPs.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2697
Number of pages9
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue number2697
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2019


  • essential genes
  • extremophiles
  • gene regulation
  • horizontal gene transfer
  • ice-binding proteins
  • snow algae


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