Kleptoprotein bioluminescence: Parapriacanthus fish obtain luciferase from ostracod prey

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Science Advances  08 Jan 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 2, eaax4942
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax4942


Through their diet, animals can obtain substances essential for imparting special characteristics, such as toxins in monarch butterflies and luminescent substances in jellyfishes. These substances are typically small molecules because they are less likely to be digested and may be hard for the consumer to biosynthesize. Here, we report that Parapriacanthus ransonneti, a bioluminescent fish, obtains not only its luciferin but also its luciferase enzyme from bioluminescent ostracod prey. The enzyme purified from the fish’s light organs was identical to the luciferase of Cypridina noctiluca, a bioluminescent ostracod that they feed upon. Experiments where fish were fed with a related ostracod, Vargula hilgendorfii, demonstrated the specific uptake of the luciferase to the fish’s light organs. This “kleptoprotein” system allows an organism to use novel functional proteins that are not encoded in its genome and provides an evolutionary alternative to DNA-based molecular evolution.

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