The zebra mussel is one of only a few freshwater bivalves known to produce a byssus. This fibrous, proteinaceous and highly cross-linked structure allows the mussel to attach to a variety of substrata and contributes to its notoriety as a major freshwater biofouling species. We have successfully expressed a full-length version of Dreissena polymorpha foot protein 1 (Dpfp1), a putative byssal thread precursor, and have used the recombinant protein as an antigen for polyclonal antibody production. Antisera obtained from rabbits immunized with recombinant Dpfp1 recognize the protein in western blots of extracts from foot tissue and byssal threads. On the basis of this evidence, we conclude that Dpfp1 is a byssal precursor protein manufactured and stored in the foot of the mussel. Immunohistochemical localization of Dpfp1 suggests that the protein is localized in secretory granules in a large gland surrounding the ventral groove of the foot. Only a subset of these glandular cells stockpiles the protein, implying that the zebra mussel foot is a complex organ capable of several distinct secretory activities involved in byssal thread formation. The uniform distribution of Dpfp1-containing cells suggests that the protein is a significant load-bearing component of zebra mussel byssal threads, although a more rigorous test of this hypothesis awaits ultrastructural localization of the protein in mature byssal threads.

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