In contrast to a toothed whale, which retains teeth that aid in capturing prey, a living baleen whale (e.g., blue whale, fin whale, humpback, bowhead) has lost its teeth and must sift zooplankton and small fish from ocean waters with baleen or whalebone, a sieve-like structure in the upper jaw that filters food from large mouthfuls of seawater.
Based on previous anatomical and fossil data studies, scientists have widely believed that both the origin of baleen and the loss of teeth occurred in the common ancestor of baleen whales about 25 million years ago. Genetic evidence for these, however, was lacking.
Now biologists at the University of California, Riverside provide the first genetic evidence for the loss of mineralized teeth in the common ancestor of baleen whales. This genomic record, they argue, is fully compatible with the available fossil record showing that the origin of baleen and the loss of teeth both occurred in the common ancestor of modern baleen whales.
"We show that the genetic toolkit for enamel production was inactivated in the common ancestor of baleen whales," said Mark Springer, a professor of biology, who led the research. "The loss of teeth in baleen whales marks an important transition in the evolutionary history of mammals, with the origin of baleen laying the foundation for the evolution of the largest animals on Earth."
Previous studies have shown that the dental genes enamelin, ameloblastin, and amelogenin are riddled with mutations that disable normal formation of enamel, but these debilitating genetic lesions postdate the loss of teeth documented by early baleen whale fossils in the rock record.
Springer's team focused on the evolution of the enamelysin gene, which is critical for enamel production in cetaceans and other mammals. Cetacea includes toothed whales (e.g., sperm whales, porpoises, dolphins) and baleen whales.
They found that the enamelysin gene was inactivated in the common ancestor of living baleen whales by the insertion of a "transposable genetic element" – a mobile piece of DNA.
"Our results demonstrate that a transposable genetic element was inserted into the protein-coding region of the enamelysin gene in the common ancestor of baleen whales," Springer said. "The insertion of this transposable element disrupted the genetic blueprint that provides instructions for making the enamelysin protein. This means we now have two different records, the fossil record and the genomic record, that provide congruent support for the loss of mineralized teeth in the common ancestor of baleen whales."
The study, which appeared online last week (Sept. 22) in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, included eight baleen whale species and representatives of all major living lineages of Cetacea. The researchers examined protein-coding regions of the enamelysin gene for molecular cavities that are shared by all baleen whales.
Next, the researchers plan to piece together the complete evolutionary history of a variety of different tooth genes in baleen whales to provide an integrated record of the macroevolutionary transition from ancestral baleen whales that captured individual prey items with their teeth to present-day behemoths that entrap entire schools of minute prey with their toothless jaws.
Springer was joined in the study by UC Riverside's Robert W. Meredith, a postdoctoral associate and the first author of the paper; John Gatesy, a professor of biology; and Joyce Cheng, an undergraduate researcher.
The National Science Foundation supported the study through grants to Springer and Gatesy.
The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment of about 18,000 is expected to grow to 21,000 students by 2020. The campus is planning a medical school and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Graduate Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.
A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.
Iqbal Pittalwala | EurekAlert!
Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute
'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
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...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences
27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
27.10.2016 | Life Sciences