Rapid evolution of pearl oyster shell matrix proteins with repetitive, low-complexity domains

Carmel McDougall, Felipe Aguilera, Bernard M Degnan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The lysine (K)-rich mantle protein (KRMP) and shematrin protein families are unique to the organic matrices of pearl oyster shells. Similar to other proteins that are constituents of tough, extracellular structures, such as spider silk, shematrins and KRMPs, contain repetitive, low-complexity domains (RLCDs). Comprehensive analysis of available gene sequences in three species of pearl oyster using BLAST and hidden Markov models reveal that both gene families have large memberships in these species. The shematrin gene family expanded before the speciation of these oysters, leading to a minimum of eight orthology groups. By contrast, KRMPs expanded primarily after speciation leading to species-specific gene repertoires. Regardless of their evolutionary history, the rapid evolution of shematrins and KRMPs appears to be the result of the intrinsic instability of repetitive sequences encoding the RLCDs, and the gain, loss and shuffling of other motifs. This mode of molecular evolution is likely to contribute to structural characteristics and evolvability of the pearl oyster shell. Based on these observations, we infer that analogous RLCD proteins throughout the animal kingdom also have the capacity to rapidly evolve and as a result change their structural properties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20130041
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number82
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2013


  • Amino Acid Motifs
  • Animal Shells
  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins/genetics
  • Models, Genetic
  • Pinctada/genetics
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary


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