Understanding the evolutionary origin of the ribonuclease (RNase) A superfamily is of great interest because the superfamily is the sole vertebrate-specific enzyme family known to date. Although mammalian RNases have a diverse array of biochemical and physiological functions, the original function of the superfamily at its birth is enigmatic. Such information may be obtained by studying basal lineages of the vertebrate phylogeny and is necessary for discerning how and why this superfamily originated. Here, we clone and characterize 3 RNase genes from the zebrafish, the most basal vertebrate examined for RNases. We report 1) that all the 3 zebrafish RNases are ribonucleolytically active, with one of them having an RNase activity comparable to that of bovine RNase A, the prototype of the superfamily; 2) that 2 zebrafish RNases have prominent expressions in adult liver and gut, whereas the 3rd is expressed in adult eye and heart; and 3) that all 3 RNases have antibacterial activities in vitro. These results, together with the presence of antibacterial and/or antiviral activities in multiple distantly related mammalian RNases, strongly suggest that the superfamily started as a host-defense mechanism in vertebrate evolution.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology