Fragilariopsis is a dominating psychrophilic diatom genus in polar sea ice. The two species Fragilariopsis cylindrus and Fragilariopsis curta are able to grow and divide below freezing temperature of sea water and above average sea water salinity. Here we show that antifreeze proteins (AFPs), involved in cold adaptation in several psychrophilic organisms, are widespread in the two polar species. The presence of AFP genes (afps) as a multigene family indicated the importance of this group of genes for the genus Fragilariopsis, possibly contributing to its success in sea ice. Protein phylogeny showed the potential mobility of afps, which appear to have crossed kingdom and domain borders, occurring in Bacteria, diatoms, crustaceans and fungi. Our results revealed a broad distribution of AFPs not only in polar organisms but also in taxa apparently not related to cold environments, suggesting that these proteins may be multifunctional. The relevance of AFPs to Fragilariopsis was also shown by gene expression analysis. Under stress conditions typical for sea ice, with subzero temperatures and high salinities, F. cylindrus and F. curta strongly expressed selected afps. An E/G point mutation in the Fragilariopsis AFPs may play a role in gene expression activity and protein function.
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