The molecular evolution of spiggin nesting glue in sticklebacks

P. J. Seear*, E. Rosato, W. P. Goodall-Copestake, I. Barber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Gene duplication and subsequent divergence can lead to the evolution of new functions and lineage-specific traits. In sticklebacks, the successive duplication of a mucin gene (MUC19) into a tandemly arrayed, multigene family has enabled the production of copious amounts of spiggin, a secreted adhesive protein essential for nest construction. Here, we examine divergence between spiggin genes among three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) from ancestral marine and derived freshwater populations, and propose underpinning gene duplication mechanisms. Sanger sequencing revealed substantial diversity among spiggin transcripts, including alternatively spliced variants and interchromosomal spiggin chimeric genes. Comparative analysis of the sequenced transcripts and all other spiggin genes in the public domain support the presence of three main spiggin lineages (spiggin A, spiggin B and spiggin C) with further subdivisions within spiggin B (B1, B2) and spiggin C (C1, C2). Spiggin A had diverged least from the ancestral MUC19, while the spiggin C duplicates had diversified most substantially. In silico translations of the spiggin gene open reading frames predicted that spiggins A and B are secreted as long mucin-like polymers, while spiggins C1 and C2 are secreted as short monomers, with putative antimicrobial properties. We propose that diversification of duplicated spiggin genes has facilitated local adaptation of spiggin to a range of aquatic habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4474-4488
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 01 Sept 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • adaptation
  • Gasterosteus aculeatus
  • gene duplication
  • gene family
  • nest building
  • retrotransposon
  • Gene Duplication
  • Smegmamorpha/genetics
  • Multigene Family
  • Alternative Splicing
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Male
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Animals
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Fish Proteins/genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular


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