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Open Access Research article

Differential expression of three galaxin-related genes during settlement and metamorphosis in the scleractinian coral Acropora millepora

Alejandro Reyes-Bermudez12, Zhiyi Lin2, David C Hayward2, David J Miller1* and Eldon E Ball2*

Author Affiliations

1 ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and Comparative Genomics Centre, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld, 4811, Australia

2 Centre for Molecular Genetics of Development and Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University, PO Box 475, Canberra, ACT, 2601, Australia

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:178  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-178

Published: 29 July 2009



The coral skeleton consists of CaCO3 deposited upon an organic matrix primarily as aragonite. Currently galaxin, from Galaxea fascicularis, is the only soluble protein component of the organic matrix that has been characterized from a coral. Three genes related to galaxin were identified in the coral Acropora millepora.


One of the Acropora genes (Amgalaxin) encodes a clear galaxin ortholog, while the others (Amgalaxin-like 1 and Amgalaxin-like 2) encode larger and more divergent proteins. All three proteins are predicted to be extracellular and share common structural features, most notably the presence of repetitive motifs containing dicysteine residues. In situ hybridization reveals distinct, but partially overlapping, spatial expression of the genes in patterns consistent with distinct roles in calcification. Both of the Amgalaxin-like genes are expressed exclusively in the early stages of calcification, while Amgalaxin continues to be expressed in the adult, consistent with the situation in the coral Galaxea.


Comparisons with molluscs suggest functional convergence in the two groups; lustrin A/pearlin proteins may be the mollusc counterparts of galaxin, whereas the galaxin-like proteins combine characteristics of two distinct proteins involved in mollusc calcification. Database searches indicate that, although sequences with high similarity to the galaxins are restricted to the Scleractinia, more divergent members of this protein family are present in other cnidarians and some other metazoans. We suggest that ancestral galaxins may have been secondarily recruited to roles in calcification in the Triassic, when the Scleractinia first appeared. Understanding the evolution of the broader galaxin family will require wider sampling and expression analysis in a range of cnidarians and other animals.