New study is part of a broader genomic research program aimed at understanding what makes a polar bear a polar bear
A male polar bear. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Steven C. Amstrup
In the winter, brown and black bears go into hibernation to conserve energy and keep warm.
But things are different for their Arctic relative, the polar bear. Within this high-latitude species, only pregnant females den up for the colder months.
So how do the rest survive the extreme Arctic winters?
New research points to one potential answer: genetic adaptations related to the production of nitric oxide, a compound that cells use to help convert nutrients from food into energy or heat.
In a new study, a team led by the University at Buffalo reports that genes controlling nitric oxide production in the polar bear genome contain genetic differences from comparable genes in brown and black bears.
“With all the changes in the global climate, it becomes more relevant to look into what sorts of adaptations exist in organisms that live in these high-latitude environments,” said lead researcher Charlotte Lindqvist, PhD, UB assistant professor of biological sciences.
“This study provides one little window into some of these adaptations,” she said. “Gene functions that had to do with nitric oxide production seemed to be more enriched in the polar bear than in the brown bears and black bears. There were more unique variants in polar bear genes than in those of the other species.”
The paper, titled “Polar Bears Exhibit Genome-Wide Signatures of Bioenergetic Adaptation to Life in the Arctic Environment,” appeared Feb. 6 in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution.
Co-authors include scientists from UB, Penn State University, the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center, Durham University and the University of California, Santa Cruz.
The genetic adaptations the research team saw are important because of the crucial role that nitric oxide plays in energy metabolism.
Typically, cells transform nutrients into energy. However, there is a phenomenon called adaptive or non-shivering thermogenesis, where the cells will produce heat instead of energy in response to a particular diet or environmental conditions.
Levels of nitric oxide production may be a key switch triggering how much heat or energy is produced as cells metabolize nutrients, or how much of the nutrients is stored as fat, Lindqvist said.
“At high levels, nitric oxide may inhibit energy production,” said Durham University’s Andreanna Welch, PhD, first author and a former postdoctoral researcher at UB with Lindqvist. “At more moderate levels, however, it may be more of a tinkering, where nitric oxide is involved in determining whether — and when — energy or heat is produced.”
The research is part of a larger research program devoted to understanding how the polar bear has adapted to the harsh Arctic environment, Lindqvist said.
In 2012, she and colleagues reported sequencing the genomes of multiple brown bears, black bears and polar bears.
In a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team said comparative studies between the DNA of the three species uncovered some distinctive polar bear traits, such as genetic differences that may affect the function of proteins involved in the metabolism of fat — a process that’s very important for insulation.
In the new study, the scientists looked at the mitochondrial and nuclear genomes of 23 polar bears, three brown bears and a black bear.
The research was funded by the University at Buffalo and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Media Contact InformationCharlotte Hsu
Charlotte Hsu | EurekAlert!
First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife
Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
25.10.2016 | Life Sciences
25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences