Marine teleost fish produce CaCO3 in their intestine as part of their osmoregulatory strategy. This precipitation is critical for rehydration and survival of the largest vertebrate group on earth, yet the molecular mechanisms that regulate this reaction are unknown. Here, we isolate and characterize an organic matrix associated with the intestinal precipitates produced by Gulf toadfish (Opsanus beta). Toadfish precipitates were purified using two different methods, and the associated organic matrix was extracted. Greater than 150 proteins were identified in the isolated matrix by mass spectrometry and subsequent database searching using an O. beta transcriptomic sequence library produced here. Many of the identified proteins were enriched in the matrix compared to the intestinal fluid, and three showed no substantial homology to any previously characterized protein in the NCBI database. To test the functionality of the isolated matrix, a micro-modified in vitro calcification assay was designed, which revealed that low concentrations of isolated matrix substantially promoted CaCO3 production, where high concentrations showed an inhibitory effect. High concentrations of matrix also decreased the incorporation of magnesium into the forming mineral, potentially providing an explanation for the variability in magnesium content observed in precipitates produced by different fish species.
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