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Gene duplication and ion channel evolution in weakly electric fish

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Hodgkin and Huxley’s legacy to biophysics is immense. My laboratory strives to continue in their footsteps by studying the evolution of ion channels. In this seminar I will show that a whole genome duplication in teleost fishes provided “extra” ion channel genes that served as the raw material for the rapid evolution of biophysically distinct channels in the electric organ of the two independently derived groups of electric fishes. These fish navigate in total darkness and communicate with each other by electric signals. The evolutionary changes in these channels underlie species-specific electric communication signals. In particular, I will show how amino acid substitutions in a voltage-gated potassium channel have specialized this channel for the generation of extremely brief (~100 microsecond) electric organ discharges. These data are not only interesting in themselves, but they give us insight into how some voltage-dependent properties might arise in other channels, including mammalian channels.

This talk is part of the Foster Talks series.

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