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Genomic Study Shows how Whales May Adapt to Ocean Environment

First Posted: Nov 24, 2013 10:20 PM EST
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Reserachers from the Korea Institute of Ocean and Technology, Korea Genome Research Foundation, BGI and other institutes are investigating the first high-depth minke whale genome, and determining how successfully it can adapt to the ocean environment.

As whales play a vital roll when it comes to the marine environment, 7 out of 13 great whale species are endangered or vulnerable. The minke whale, as mentioned by background information from the study, is the most abundant, and the ideal candidate for the genome sequencing.

Researchers conducted de novo sequencing on the species with a 128x average depth of coverage. They then re-sequenced three minke whales, a fin whale, a bottlenose dolphin and a finless porpoise.

Scientists hope that the sequencing can potentially provide data that helps scientists improve their understanding of the ocean environment.

The study notes the following regarding whales and ocean life, via a press release: "The adaptation of whale to ocean life was notably marked by resistance to physiological stresses caused by a lack of oxygen, increased reactive oxygen species, and high salt level. In this study, researchers investigated a number of whale-specific genes that were strongly associated with stress resistance, such as the peroxiredoxin (PRDX) family, O-linked N-acetylglucosaminylation (O-GlcNAcylation). The results revealed that the gene families associated with stress-responsive proteins and anaerobic metabolism were expanded."

Researchers found that these whales show an increased ration of reduce gluthaione/glutathione disulfide when suffering hypoxic or oxidative stress.

Yet results showed that these genes could be used as pseudogenes that may potentially play an important roll in embryonic development.

"Minke whale is the first marine mammal that has been sequenced with such high-depth genome coverage," Xuanmin Guang, project manager from BGI said, via the release. "The genome data not only can help us know much more about the adaption mechanisms underlying minke whale, but also provides invaluable resource for marine mammal's future studies such as diseases control and prevention, species conservation,and protection."

More information regarding the study can be found via the journal Nature Genetics

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