Abstract Background The process of calcium carbonate biomineralization has arisen multiple times during metazoan evolution. In the phylum Cnidaria, biomineralization has mostly been studied in the subclass Hexacorallia (i.e. stony corals) in comparison to the subclass Octocorallia (i.e. red corals); the two diverged approximately 600 million years ago. The precious Mediterranean red coral, Corallium rubrum, is an octocorallian species, which produces two distinct high-magnesium calcite biominerals, the axial skeleton and the sclerites. In order to gain insight into the red coral biomineralization process and cnidarian biomineralization evolution, we studied the protein repertoire forming the organic matrix (OM) of its two biominerals. Results We combined High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry and transcriptome analysis to study the OM composition of the axial skeleton and the sclerites. We identified a total of 102 OM proteins, 52 are found in the two red coral biominerals with scleritin being the most abundant protein in each fraction. Contrary to reef building corals, the red coral organic matrix possesses a large number of collagen-like proteins. Agrin-like glycoproteins and proteins with sugar-binding domains are also predominant. Twenty-seven and 23 proteins were uniquely assigned to the axial skeleton and the sclerites, respectively. The inferred regulatory function of these OM proteins suggests that the difference between the two biominerals is due to the modeling of the matrix network, rather than the presence of specific structural components. At least one OM component could have been horizontally transferred from prokaryotes early during Octocorallia evolution. Conclusion Our results suggest that calcification of the red coral axial skeleton likely represents a secondary calcification of an ancestral gorgonian horny axis. In addition, the comparison with stony coral skeletomes highlighted the low proportion of similar proteins between the biomineral OMs of hexacorallian and octocorallian corals, suggesting an independent acquisition of calcification in anthozoans.
Bibliographical noteKAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2021-01-13
Acknowledgements: The authors gratefully thank Anne Haguenauer and Dr. Didier Aurelle from the IMBE/Marseille for the C. rubrum sampling. We would like to thank M. François Rougaignon, President of the Fondation Paul Hamel for his confiance and support. We gratefully thank the reviewers for their constructive analysis of our work that significantly helped to improve this manuscript.