A team of evolutionary biologists including University of Texas at Arlington researchers Todd Castoe and Matthew Fujita have unveiled the genomic sequencing of the Western painted turtles that may explain patho-physiological changes and behaviors of turtles during during their hibernate period, while still surviving catastrophic injuries or death.
The western painted turtle, native to area extending from northern Mexico to southern Canada, survive harsh winters by hibernating under frozen lakes and ponds without suffering from any tissue damage due to hypoxia (low oxygen) or hypothermia (low temperature).
The international team of researchers investigated the genomic basis of hibernation behavior and tolerance to cold in order to devise treatment modalities for humans. The research provided the second full genetic mapping of a reptile using advanced genomic sequencing procedures. The results of this remarkable international project were published in peer-reviewed Genome Biology journal and University of Texas at Arlington researchers Todd Castoe and Matthew Fujita are among the 60 co-authors of the paper.
Essentials of the study:
Researchers identified that the genes that are responsible for bearing environmental temperature changes and oxygen deprivation are similar in all reptiles; however, the genetic activity is higher in reptiles that are exposed to extreme environmental situations. Researchers identified that humans also possess this gene, but the genetic activity is 130 times lower in humans when compared to the Western painted turtles. Researchers are hopeful that future research may pave ways to enhance human longevity, tolerance to hypothermia or hypoxia and other undesired environmental conditions to improve the quality of health and survival in humans.
Pamela Jansma, dean of the UTA College of Science expressed her views:
“It’s very hard to do research on people, but if you know that animals have a similar gene pairing, you can study how those genes trigger responses to environmental stimuli. You can map that to humans, and you can then imagine developing gene therapies to address certain diseases.”
UT Arlington and Amphibian-Reptile Research:
[adrotate banner=”9″]UT Arlington provides research facilities to international scientists at the university’s 6,000-square-foot Amphibian and Reptile Diversity Research Center. The center houses over 150,000 specimens and was established in 2005 with an overall cost of over $1 million. The research center has recently installed a $125,000 sequencing instrument called MiSeq to further enhance the efficiency and performance of researchers.
The history and existence of turtles is as old as 210 million years but researchers believes that the evolution process has been really slow in turtles as compared to humans and even slower when compared to other reptiles.
“The lizards and snakes and frogs and toads you see in your back yard have important relevance not only by stirring the excitement in young children but also to inform science and society about the world and, ultimately, ourselves. This is one reason to build an appreciation for the natural world so that we can continue learning from it.”
Fujita used large areas of turtle’s genome to explain that the genomic characteristics are much closer to birds than to typical reptiles like lizards and snakes. Fujita and other researchers believe that learning the developmental process and defense mechanism will also help researchers to protect and prevent the extinction of some endangered species of turtles.
Fujita and Castoe link their interest in amphibian lifestyle and characteristics to their childhood fears and fascinations. The two scientists take frequent field trips in addition to working in the research lab to collect specimens and study the habitat.