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  • Writer's pictureSinead Mackintosh

The Genetics Behind the Ice Fish

The ice fish (fancy science name: Channichthyidae) is a group of fish found in the cold waters of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. One of the most striking features of ice fish is their transparent blood! It's super cool (see what I did there) blood lacks the red blood cells that are normally found in other fish and vertebrates (animals with an internal backbone).

The genetics behind the icefish blood is complex (as always) and involves multiple genes and biological pathways. One key gene that is involved in the absence of red blood cells in ice fish is the erythropoietin gene (EPO). Erythropoietin is a hormone that is produced by the kidneys and starts the production of red blood cells in most vertebrates. In ice fish, however, mutations in the EPO gene have resulted in the loss of red blood cells, which allows for greater blood flow and oxygen diffusion.

Another gene that is important for the development of transparent blood in ice fish is the type III antifreeze protein (AFP III) gene. This gene codes for a protein that helps prevent the formation of ice crystals in the blood of ice fish, which would otherwise be lethal in the freezing waters of Antarctica.

In addition to these specific genes, the genetics behind the transparent blood of ice fish is also influenced by various environmental factors, such as temperature, pressure, and oxygen levels, which can affect the expression of genes involved in blood development and function.

Overall, the genetics behind the transparent blood of ice fish is an area of active research in evolutionary biology and genetics, with ongoing studies aimed at identifying the specific genes and regulatory pathways involved in this unique trait and how it has evolved to adapt to the extreme conditions of the Antarctic environment.

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