The Salish Sea, home to endangered killer whales, is also one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. Photo : RobynPhoto/iStock

February 22nd, 2019 (Lynda V. Mapes). The National Energy Board acknowledged that the pipeline expansion would be detrimental to the environment, but beneficial to Canadian national interest. Read More…

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The killer whale stranded itself on Saturday morning. (Supplied : DPIPWE)

Sunday, 20th, 2019. A single large male killer whale found stranded at Badger Beach in northern Tasmania yesterday has died, despite frantic efforts to save it. Read More…

The first North Atlantic right whale calf of the year was spotted on Friday near the St. Johns River by the border of Florida and Georgia. The calf is visible on the left, and on the right is the mother’s fin. (Chad Leedy/Coastwise Consulting)

December 29th, 2018. The first North Atlantic right whale calf of the winter season has been spotted off the Florida coast heading north with its mother, a known resident of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Read More…

The body of a minke whale measuring close to 20 feet was discovered on the western shore of Yarmouth Bar on Christmas Day. KAREN BULLERWELL PHOTO

December 28th, 2018 (Carla Allen). The body of a minke whale measuring close to 20 feet was discovered on the western shore of Yarmouth Bar on Christmas Day. Read More…

The carcass of an endangered right whale found floating off Boothbay Harbor sits Sunday in a tractor-trailer that transported it from the Portland waterfront to Benson Farm in Gorham, creating a bit of an overnight spectacle in the streets along the way. Photos courtesy Benson Farm in Gorham

December 21st, 2018 (Mary C. Serreze). Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has joined a nine-state lawsuit challenging a Trump administration plan to conduct seismic testing in preparation for oil and gas exploration in federal waters off the Eastern Seaboard. Read More…

Posted by: The ocean update | December 21, 2018

12-metre humpback whale strands in Firth of Thames (New Zealand)

December 21st, 2018 (Jamie Ensor). A 12-metre long humpback whale has died overnight after stranding in the Firth of Thames. Read More…

Posted by: The ocean update | December 19, 2018

Groups of pilot whales have their own dialects (Hawaii, USA)

The groups of pilot whales all use the same habitat, but have different vocal repertoires. Credit: Photo by Amy Van Cise, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

December 19th, 2018. A new study has found that short-finned pilot whales living off the coast of Hawai’i have their own sorts of vocal dialects, a discovery that may help researchers understand the whales’ complex social structure. Read More…

December 15th, 2018 (Tracey Watson). No longer content to tinker with the genetic design of crops and humans, scientists – at the behest of the U.S. Military – are now turning their attention to the world’s oceans. As reported by Defense One, the Pentagon is looking at various ways in which to genetically engineer marine microorganisms into living surveillance equipment capable of detecting enemy submarines, divers and other suspicious underwater traffic. Read More…

Posted by: The ocean update | December 14, 2018

Mammalian keratin genes and adaptation to living on land or sea

December 14th, 2018. Scientists have performed one of the largest comparative genomic studies to help determine the key molecular and evolutionary origins of mammalian adaptations seen in skin proteins.

Whether by land or by sea, mammals live in a diverse variety of protective skins adapted against the elements, from swimming in the deepest azure oceans to climbing precipitous mountain peaks.

Now, Medical University of Vienna professor Leopold Eckhart and colleagues have performed one of the largest comparative genomic studies to help determine the key molecular and evolutionary origins of mammalian adaptations seen in skin proteins.

In a new study appearing recently in the advanced online edition of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, Eckhart’s team homed in on which genes, among the dozens of mammalian keratin genes, are required for living on land or in the sea. The products of these keratin genes assemble to form the girders of the cytoskeleton in skin cells, called keratinocytes, that maintain a tight barrier between the body and the outside world.

“The results of the present study provide important new data on the evolution of keratins that control the mechanical stability of the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin,” said Eckhart.

In terrestrial mammals, the epidermis depends on different keratins to maintain the barrier to the environment and to regenerate the epidermis if the skin is wounded. The new report proposes that fully aquatic mammals continuously use the epidermal regeneration program and therefore require only one of the two sets of epidermal keratins.

“It is surprising that the main proteins of the outermost skin layers of terrestrial mammals, including humans, are dispensable in aquatic mammals, such as dolphins, whales, and manatees,” said Eckhart. “And it is remarkable that a stress response program was the starting point of an evolutionary innovation: the new architecture of the epidermis in aquatic mammals.”

The epidermis of dolphins is approximately 50 times thicker than normal human epidermis. Keratins K1, K2, and K10 have been lost and replaced by keratins K6 and K17 in dolphins.

Both the thickening of the epidermis and the key roles of K6 and K17 are also found in human skin wound healing and in lesional skin of patients with psoriasis. In this common skin disease, so-far-unknown genetic factors predispose skin cells to trigger the evolutionarily ancient wound healing program of the epidermis.

“At this point evolutionary biology meets dermatological research, and we hope that this type of ‘translational research’ will yield further insights for the benefit of patients in the future,” said Eckhart.

The research team at the Medical University of Vienna also discovered previously underestimated complexity in the epidermal keratin composition due to so-called “alternative splicing” keratin K10 mRNA and adaptations of keratin gene sets in terrestrial mammals. However, an entire remodeling of the keratin cytoskeleton has occurred only in fully aquatic mammals.

“Our data point to a general pattern of skin evolution: proteins of innermost skin layers are the most conserved, and proteins of the outermost layers are the most diverse,” said Eckhart. “The interactions between keratins and other epidermal proteins need further studies. With progress in comparative genomics and new lines of experimental research, the evolution of the skin will remain an exciting and fruitful research topic.”

The main proteins of the outermost skin layers of terrestrial mammals, including humans, are dispensable in aquatic mammals, such as dolphins, whales, and manatees. The epidermis of dolphins is approximately 50 times thicker than normal human epidermis. Keratins K1, K2, and K10 have been lost and replaced by keratins K6 and K17 in dolphins. Credit : Leopold Eckhart, Department of Dermatology, Medical University of Vienna

Citation : Florian Ehrlich, Heinz Fischer, Lutz Langbein, Silke Praetzel-Wunder, Bettina Ebner, Katarzyna Figlak, Anton Weissenbacher, Wolfgang Sipos, Erwin Tschachler, Leopold Eckhart; Differential evolution of the epidermal keratin cytoskeleton in terrestrial and aquatic mammalsMolecular Biology and Evolution, msy214, https://doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msy214

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Posted by: The ocean update | December 11, 2018

Green sea turtles butchered in Pasil (Kalinga, Philippines)

SEA TURTLE MEAT CONFISCATED BY NBI/DEC.11,2018:About 50 kilos of green sea turtle or pawikan meat were confiscated in an entrapment operation conducted by the NBI-7 and the DENR-7 along Rallos St., Barangay Pasil, Cebu City.(CDN PHOTO/LITO TECSON)

December 11th, 2018 (Rosalie O. Abatayo). Authorities confiscated around 60 kgs of meat of the endangered sea creatures inside Pasil eatery, ‘power’ stew believed to boost sex drive. Read More…

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