Open Access Research article

Genomic organization and evolution of the Atlantic salmon hemoglobin repertoire

Nicole L Quinn1, Keith A Boroevich1, Krzysztof P Lubieniecki1, William Chow1, Evelyn A Davidson1, Ruth B Phillips2, Ben F Koop3 and William S Davidson1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

2 Department of Biological Sciences, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA, USA

3 Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:539  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-539

Published: 5 October 2010



The genomes of salmonids are considered pseudo-tetraploid undergoing reversion to a stable diploid state. Given the genome duplication and extensive biological data available for salmonids, they are excellent model organisms for studying comparative genomics, evolutionary processes, fates of duplicated genes and the genetic and physiological processes associated with complex behavioral phenotypes. The evolution of the tetrapod hemoglobin genes is well studied; however, little is known about the genomic organization and evolution of teleost hemoglobin genes, particularly those of salmonids. The Atlantic salmon serves as a representative salmonid species for genomics studies. Given the well documented role of hemoglobin in adaptation to varied environmental conditions as well as its use as a model protein for evolutionary analyses, an understanding of the genomic structure and organization of the Atlantic salmon α and β hemoglobin genes is of great interest.


We identified four bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs) comprising two hemoglobin gene clusters spanning the entire α and β hemoglobin gene repertoire of the Atlantic salmon genome. Their chromosomal locations were established using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) analysis and linkage mapping, demonstrating that the two clusters are located on separate chromosomes. The BACs were sequenced and assembled into scaffolds, which were annotated for putatively functional and pseudogenized hemoglobin-like genes. This revealed that the tail-to-tail organization and alternating pattern of the α and β hemoglobin genes are well conserved in both clusters, as well as that the Atlantic salmon genome houses substantially more hemoglobin genes, including non-Bohr β globin genes, than the genomes of other teleosts that have been sequenced.


We suggest that the most parsimonious evolutionary path leading to the present organization of the Atlantic salmon hemoglobin genes involves the loss of a single hemoglobin gene cluster after the whole genome duplication (WGD) at the base of the teleost radiation but prior to the salmonid-specific WGD, which then produced the duplicated copies seen today. We also propose that the relatively high number of hemoglobin genes as well as the presence of non-Bohr β hemoglobin genes may be due to the dynamic life history of salmon and the diverse environmental conditions that the species encounters.

Data deposition: BACs S0155C07 and S0079J05 (fps135): GenBank GQ898924; BACs S0055H05 and S0014B03 (fps1046): GenBank GQ898925