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Zebrafish RNase T2 genes and the evolution of secretory ribonucleases in animals

Melissa S Hillwig1, Ludmila Rizhsky2, Ying Wang3, Alisa Umanskaya2, Jeffrey J Essner13 and Gustavo C MacIntosh12*

Author Affiliations

1 Interdepartmental Genetics Graduate Program, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA

2 Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA

3 Department of Genetics, Development and Cell Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:170  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-170

Published: 20 July 2009



Members of the Ribonuclease (RNase) T2 family are common models for enzymological studies, and their evolution has been well characterized in plants. This family of acidic RNases is widespread, with members in almost all organisms including plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and even some viruses. While several biological functions have been proposed for these enzymes in plants, their role in animals is unknown. Interestingly, in vertebrates most of the biological roles of plant RNase T2 proteins are carried out by members of a different family, RNase A. Still, RNase T2 proteins are conserved in these animals


As a first step to shed light on the role of animal RNase T2 enzymes, and to understand the evolution of these proteins while co-existing with the RNase A family, we characterized RNase Dre1 and RNase Dre2, the two RNase T2 genes present in the zebrafish (Danio rerio) genome. These genes are expressed in most tissues examined, including high expression in all stages of embryonic development, and their expression corresponds well with the presence of acidic RNase activities in every tissue analyzed. Embryo expression seems to be a conserved characteristic of members of this family, as other plant and animal RNase T2 genes show similar high expression during embryo development. While plant RNase T2 proteins and the vertebrate RNase A family show evidences of radiation and gene sorting, vertebrate RNase T2 proteins form a monophyletic group, but there is also another monophyletic group defining a fish-specific RNase T2 clade.


Based on gene expression and phylogenetic analyses we propose that RNase T2 enzymes carry out a housekeeping function. This conserved biological role probably kept RNase T2 enzymes in animal genomes in spite of the presence of RNases A. A hypothetical role during embryo development is also discussed.