Genome-wide analysis of the Zn(II)2Cys6 zinc cluster-encoding gene family in Aspergillus flavus
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Proteins with a Zn(II)2Cys6 domain, Cys-X2-Cys-X6-Cys-X5-12-Cys-X2-Cys-X6-9-Cys (hereafter, referred to as the C6 domain), form a subclass of zinc finger proteins found exclusively in fungi and yeast. Genome sequence databases of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Candida albicans have provided an overview of this family of genes. Annotation of this gene family in most fungal genomes is still far from perfect and refined bioinformatic algorithms are urgently needed. Aspergillus flavus is a saprophytic soil fungus that can produce the carcinogenic aflatoxin. It is the second leading causative agent of invasive aspergillosis. The 37-Mb genome of A. flavus is predicted to encode 12,000 proteins. Two and a half percent of the total proteins are estimated to contain the C6 domain, more than twofold greater than those estimated for yeast, which is about 1 %. The variability in the spacing between cysteines, C3-C4 and C5-C6, in the zinc cluster enables classification of the domains into distinct subgroups, which are also well conserved in Aspergillus nidulans. Sixty-six percent (202/306) of the A. flavus C6 proteins contain a specific transcription factor domain, and 7 % contain a domain of unknown function, DUF3468. Two A. nidulans C6 proteins containing the DUF3468 are involved in asexual conidiation and another two in sexual differentiation. In the anamorphic A. flavus, a homolog of the latter lacks the C6 domain. A. flavus being heterothallic and reproducing mainly through conidiation appears to have lost some components involved in homothallic sexual development. Of the 55 predicted gene clusters thought to be involved in production of secondary metabolites, only about half have a C6-encoding gene in or near the gene clusters. The features revealed by the A. flavus C6 proteins likely are common for other ascomycete fungi.