The genomic basis for colonizing the freezing Southern Ocean revealed by Antarctic toothfish and Patagonian robalo genomes

Liangbiao Chen, Ying Lu, Wenhao Li, Yandong Ren, Mengchao Yu, Shouwen Jiang, Yanxia Fu, Jian Wang, Sihua Peng, Kevin T. Bilyk, Katherine R. Murphy, Xuan Zhuang, Mathias Hune, Wanying Zhai, Wen Wang, Qianghua Xu, Chi Hing Christina Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Background: The Southern Ocean is the coldest ocean on Earth but a hot spot of evolution. The bottom-dwelling Eocene ancestor of Antarctic notothenioid fishes survived polar marine glaciation and underwent adaptive radiation, forming >120 species that fill all water column niches today. Genome-wide changes enabling physiological adaptations and the rapid expansion of the Antarctic notothenioids remain poorly understood. Results: We sequenced and compared 2 notothenioid genomes - the cold-adapted and neutrally buoyant Antarctic toothfish Dissostichus mawsoni and the basal Patagonian robalo Eleginops maclovinus, representing the temperate ancestor. We detected >200 protein gene families that had expanded and thousands of genes that had evolved faster in the toothfish, with diverse cold-relevant functions including stress response, lipid metabolism, protein homeostasis, and freeze resistance. Besides antifreeze glycoprotein, an eggshell protein had functionally diversified to aid in cellular freezing resistance. Genomic and transcriptomic comparisons revealed proliferation of selcys-transfer RNA genes and broad transcriptional upregulation across anti-oxidative selenoproteins, signifying their prominent role in mitigating oxidative stress in the oxygen-rich Southern Ocean. We found expansion of transposable elements, temporally correlated to Antarctic notothenioid diversification. Additionally, the toothfish exhibited remarkable shifts in genetic programs towards enhanced fat cell differentiation and lipid storage, and promotion of chondrogenesis while inhibiting osteogenesis in bone development, collectively contributing to the achievement of neutral buoyancy and pelagicism. Conclusions: Our study revealed a comprehensive landscape of evolutionary changes essential for Antarctic notothenioid cold adaptation and ecological expansion. The 2 genomes are valuable resources for further exploration of mechanisms underlying the spectacular notothenioid radiation in the coldest marine environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbergiz016
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2019


  • Antarctic notothenioids
  • adaptive radiation
  • climate change
  • genome
  • oxidative stress


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