SEP 07, 2019 4:35 PM PDT

Epigenetics Used to Determine the Age of Dolphins

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Until recently, testing the age of dolphin involved extract a tooth, sawing it in half, and then counting the layers within like rings in a tree. An expensive and complicated process, researchers at Florida International University have developed a new way to determine how old dolphins are by analyzing a small skin sample. 

Known as Bottlenose Dolphin Epigenetic Age Estimation Tool (BEAT), the aging method works by analyzing two genes- and their epigenetic methylation patterns, to identify the age of the dolphins. Noninvasive unlike previous methods, the researchers initially collected around 50 DNA samples from dolphins at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, together with their known ages, and began to look for correlations between certain genes the ages of the dolphins until they found the two genes currently used in the process (Beal: 2019). 

Exciting news, the researchers hope that BEAT will be able to help them better determine the health of dolphin populations. According to Jose Eirin-Lopez, the lead of the study, “If there are a lot of older individuals, it will impact the population and their chance for survival...At the same time, if there are a lot of young individuals, they are more susceptible to predators. A more even distribution of different ages means the population will be more effective."

Jeremy Kiszka, a marine biologist, said of the tool: “With a simple biopsy I can have something that I have needed for years in my research to better understand how a dolphin's diet changes with age and how age affects pollutant levels in their tissue (Nicoletti: 2019)."

The researchers current aim is to use the tool to determine the ages of a population of dolphins in Naples, Florida, whose ages are otherwise unknown. Aside from this, they are also exploring ways to expand the tool’s capabilities to be able to test other marine animals. Sharks are of particular interest, given that currently, the only way to find out their age is to study their dead remains. 

According to Andria Beal, a Ph.D. student involved in the study, “I'm currently working on a proposal to get the funding to do this work with sharks," Beal said. "It's going to be a huge undertaking and more exploratory and we're going to essentially start the process from scratch, because we don't know what genes correlate with age and don't have a reference point (ibid.).”

 

Sources: 

 

Nicoletti, Angela: Phys.org

Beal, Andria et al.: Frontiers in Marine Science

 

About the Author
  • Science writer with keen interests in technology and behavioral biology. Her current focus is on the interplay between these fields to create meaningful interactions, applications and environments.
You May Also Like
MAR 17, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
MAR 17, 2020
Targeting RNA With CRISPR
Researchers screened thousands of target molecules to find the most effective targets, and have made their data openly a ...
MAR 25, 2020
Technology
MAR 25, 2020
What is eDNA?
What exactly is eDNA? It is environmental DNA that has underwent the next-generation sequencing and that has been &lsquo ...
APR 09, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
APR 09, 2020
A Model of Spinal Development Provides Insight Into Disease
The spinal column develops from a row of structures called somites, which bud off sequentially in a process called somit ...
MAY 05, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAY 05, 2020
Preprint Suggests Sars-CoV-2 Mutation Makes it More Transmissable
Samples obtained from patients from all over the world have been used to sequence the genomes of the viral strains infec ...
MAY 09, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
MAY 09, 2020
Rapid, Efficient COVID-19 Diagnostic Method Relies on Magnetic Beads
The pandemic virus SARS-CoV-2 has spread widely, and a lack of testing has been a serious problem.
MAY 15, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
MAY 15, 2020
It Only Takes One Gene For Virgin Birth in Honey Bees
Cape honey bees are found in South Africa, and while they look similar, they are very different from other subspecies of ...
Loading Comments...