Humans could learn a thing or two from turtles, and scientists who have just sequenced the first turtle genome uncovered clues about how people can benefit from the shelled creatures' remarkable longevity and ability to survive for months without breathing.
Understanding the natural mechanisms turtles use to protect their heart and brain from oxygen deprivation may one day improve treatments for heart attack and stroke, the researchers said.
UCLA conservation biologist and lead author Brad Shaffer collaborated with the Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis and 58 co-authors on the multi-year research project. Their paper, which appears in the journal Genome Biology, describes the genome of the western painted turtle, one of the most widespread and well-studied turtles in the world.
Researchers were somewhat surprised to find that the painted turtle's extraordinary adaptations were not the result of previously unknown genes but of gene networks that are common in vertebrates including humans, said Shaffer, a professor at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (IoES) and UCLA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
"They're the same genes we have, and the turtles are just using them in different ways and really cranking up their activity in most cases," said Shaffer, who also directs the La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science at the IoES.
"Given how extreme their adaptations are, I imagined we would see weird new genes, so I was surprised," he added. "But the fact that they're common means they may have direct relevance to human health conditions, especially those related to oxygen deprivation, hypothermia and possibly longevity."
Inside the turtle genome, the researchers found 19 genes in the brain and 23 in the heart that became more active in low-oxygen conditions, including one that became 130 times more active. These genes, all of w
|Contact: Alison Hewitt|
University of California - Los Angeles