Nav: Home

Genetic mutation in whale eyes may increase mortality risks

October 24, 2016

MELBOURNE, FLA. -- Scientists have found that a genetic mutation in the eyes of right whales that hampers their ability to see in bright light may make them more susceptible to fatal entanglements in fishing gear, one of the major causes of death for this critically endangered mammal.

The study of this whale species, which numbers less than 500 individuals remaining in the Western Atlantic Ocean, may also help scientists better understand how vision works in other mammals, including people.

Florida Institute of Technology doctoral student Lorian Schweikert and her adviser, Michael Grace, professor of neuroscience and senior associate dean of science, worked with Jeffry Fasick, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Tampa, to characterize this newly discovered mutation in Northern right whales and Bowhead whales. Their results suggest that this mutation may seriously harm the whales' ability to visually avoid entanglement.

According to their new study, "Evolutionary Loss of Cone Photoreception in Balaenid Whales Reveals Circuit Stability in the Mammalian Retina," published this month in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, the normal light-detecting proteins in cone photoreceptor cells are missing in these whales, demonstrating for the first time the complete loss of cone-based light detection in any mammal.

In light of the findings, the Florida Tech and University of Tampa team cloned and sequenced the gene that encodes a cone opsin protein. Humans possess several different opsin genes that provide excellent color vision, but whales and their relatives were thought to only possess one. Now researchers are finding some whale species in which that single gene is fundamentally broken.

Working in Florida Tech's Behavioral Neuroscience Laboratory and the Center for High Resolution Microscopy, the scientists went on to study how this mutation affects the wiring of the whale retina by studying the bowhead whale, a resident of the Arctic. Schweikert and Grace found that rod cells -- light-detectors that operate in dim-light conditions -- remain, while functional cone cells are completely absent in the bowhead whale retina.

Said Schweikert, "Cone cells are normally required for vision in bright light. With only rods, right whales may have very poor vision when they surface to breathe. This may make it difficult for them to avoid entanglement in fishing gear - one of the leading causes of death of these critically endangered animals."

Unexpectedly, however, the cone opsin mutation thought by scientists to hinder operation of the retina may actually enhance dim-light vision in these whales -- a finding that provides insight into the effects of mutations on the health and function of the human retina.

"Understanding sensory systems in critically endangered species opens a window that may help us better understand how to protect them," Grace said. "It's a fantastic bonus that analyzing whale vision may help us better understand how our own eyes operate."
-end-


Florida Institute of Technology

Related Genetic Mutation Articles:

New MDS subtype proposed based on presence of genetic mutation
In a special report published today in the journal Blood, an international working group of experts in myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) proposes -- for the first time -- the recognition of a distinct subtype of MDS based on the presence of a nonheritable genetic mutation that causes the disease.
New research uncovers how common genetic mutation drives cancer
A new, multicenter study led by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center determined how a single mutation in splicing factor 3b subunit 1 (SF3B1), the most frequently mutated splicing factor gene, drives the formation of many cancers.
Genetic mutation appears to protect some people from deadly MRSA
An inherited genetic tendency appears to increase the likelihood that a person can successfully fight off antibiotic-resistant staph infections, according to a study led by Duke Health researchers.
Genetic mutation linked to flu-related heart complications
For the first time, research in mice has shown a link between a genetic mutation, flu and heart irregularities that researchers say might one day improve the care of flu patients.
Treatment targeted at a genetic mutation relieves psychosis symptoms
Treatment of psychosis can be targeted to a specific genetic mutation in patients with psychotic disorders, according to a study in Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier.
Cardiac genetic mutation may not always predict heart disease
One in 10 people with this condition were born with a mutation in the TTN gene, but -- until now -- it has been unclear whether everyone with these mutations will inevitably develop dilated cardiomyopathy.
Researchers discover genetic mutation behind serious skull disorder
An international collaboration has identified a new genetic mutation behind the premature fusing of the bony plates that make up the skull.
NUP160 genetic mutation linked to steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome
Mutations in the NUP160 gene, which encodes one protein component of the nuclear pore complex nucleoporin 160 kD, are implicated in steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome, an international team reports March 25, 2019, in JASN.
Study identifies genetic mutation responsible for tuberculosis vulnerability
Scientists discovered a genetic variant that greatly increases a person's likelihood of developing tuberculosis.
Scientists develop method to visualize a genetic mutation
A team of scientists has developed a method that yields, for the first time, visualization of a gene amplifications and deletions known as copy number variants in single cells.
More Genetic Mutation News and Genetic Mutation Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.