An optimized alignment of related protein sequences helps to see their important shared features and to deduce their phylogenetic relationships. At low levels of sequence similarity, there are no suitable computer programs for making the best possible alignment. This review summarizes some guidelines for how in such instances, nevertheless, insightful alignments can be made. The method involves, basically, the understanding of molecular family features at both the protein and intron-exon level, and the collection of many related sequences so that gradual differences may be observed. The method is exemplified by identifying and aligning interleukin 2 (IL-2) and related sequences in Elasmobranchii (sharks/rays) and coelacanth, as other authors have expressed difficulty with their identification. From the point of general immunology, it is interesting that the unusual long “leader” sequence of IL-15, already known in other species, is even more impressively conserved in cartilaginous fish. Furthermore, sequence comparisons suggest that IL-2 in cartilaginous fish has lost its ability to bind an IL-2Rα/15Rα receptor chain, which would prohibit the existence of a mechanism for regulatory T cell regulation identical to mammals.
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