Protein metabolism in marine animals: the underlying mechanism of growth

Growth is a fundamental process within all marine organisms. In soft tissues, growth is primarily achieved by the synthesis and retention of proteins as protein growth. The protein pool (all the protein within the organism) is highly dynamic, with proteins constantly entering the pool via protein synthesis or being removed from the pool via protein degradation. Any net change in the size of the protein pool, positive or negative, is termed protein growth. The three inter-related processes of protein synthesis, degradation and growth are together termed protein metabolism. Measurement of protein metabolism is vital in helping us understand how biotic and abiotic factors affect growth and growth efficiency in marine animals. Recently, the developing fields of transcriptomics and proteomics have started to offer us a means of greatly increasing our knowledge of the underlying molecular control of protein metabolism. Transcriptomics may also allow us to detect subtle changes in gene expression associated with protein synthesis and degradation, which cannot be detected using classical methods. A large literature exists on protein metabolism in animals; however, this chapter concentrates on what we know of marine ectotherms; data from non-marine ectotherms and endotherms are only discussed when the data are of particular relevance. We first consider the techniques available to measure protein metabolism, their problems and what validation is required. Protein metabolism in marine organisms is highly sensitive to a wide variety of factors, including temperature, pollution, seasonality, nutrition, developmental stage, genetics, sexual maturation and moulting. We examine how these abiotic and biotic factors affect protein metabolism at the level of whole-animal (adult and larval), tissue and cellular protein metabolism. Available gene expression data, which help us understand the underlying control of protein metabolism, are also discussed. As protein metabolism appears to comprise a significant proportion of overall metabolic costs in marine organisms, accurate estimates of the energetic cost per unit of synthesised protein are important. Measured costs of protein metabolism are reviewed, and the very high variability in reported costs highlighted. Two major determinants of protein synthesis rates are the tissue concentration of RNA, often expressed as the RNA to protein ratio, and the RNA activity (kRNA). The effects of temperature, nutrition and developmental stage on RNA concentration and activity are considered. This chapter highlights our complete lack of knowledge of protein metabolism in many groups of marine organisms, and the fact we currently have only limited data for animals held under a narrow range of experimental conditions. The potential assistance that genomic methods may provide in increasing our understanding of protein metabolism is described.


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Authors: Fraser, Keiron P.P., Rogers, Alex D.

1 January, 2007
Advances in Marine Biology / 52
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