Evolution of Protein-Mediated Biomineralization in Scleractinian Corals

Tal Zaquin, Assaf Malik, Jeana L. Drake, Hollie M. Putnam, Tali Mass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While recent strides have been made in understanding the biological process by which stony corals calcify, much remains to be revealed, including the ubiquity across taxa of specific biomolecules involved. Several proteins associated with this process have been identified through proteomic profiling of the skeletal organic matrix (SOM) extracted from three scleractinian species. However, the evolutionary history of this putative “biomineralization toolkit,” including the appearance of these proteins’ throughout metazoan evolution, remains to be resolved. Here we used a phylogenetic approach to examine the evolution of the known scleractinians’ SOM proteins across the Metazoa. Our analysis reveals an evolutionary process dominated by the co-option of genes that originated before the cnidarian diversification. Each one of the three species appears to express a unique set of the more ancient genes, representing the independent co-option of SOM proteins, as well as a substantial proportion of proteins that evolved independently. In addition, in some instances, the different species expressed multiple orthologous proteins sharing the same evolutionary history. Furthermore, the non-random clustering of multiple SOM proteins within scleractinian-specific branches suggests the conservation of protein function between distinct species for what we posit is part of the scleractinian “core biomineralization toolkit.” This “core set” contains proteins that are likely fundamental to the scleractinian biomineralization mechanism. From this analysis, we infer that the scleractinians’ ability to calcify was achieved primarily through multiple lineage-specific protein expansions, which resulted in a new functional role that was not present in the parent gene.

Original languageEnglish
Article number618517
Pages (from-to)618517
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
StatePublished - 2 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2021 Zaquin, Malik, Drake, Putnam and Mass.


  • SOM proteins
  • co-option
  • phylogenetic analysis
  • skeleton evolution
  • stony corals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Genetics
  • Molecular Medicine


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