Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Species of Whales have Genetic Mutations in Eyes that can Increase Mortality

The Right Whale number less than 500 individuals remaining in the Western Atlantic Ocean. Scientists conducted a study to help better understand the vision in mammals, including people. Scientists at Florida Institute of Technology and University of Tampa have discovered that a genetic mutation in the eyes of Northern right whales and Bowhead whales which can hinder their ability to see in bright light, making it difficult to avoid entanglements in fishing gear. This is the major cause of death for the critically endangered whales. 

This mutation is due to the loss of cone receptor cells which contain normal light-detecting proteins. This is the first time any mammal has a complete loss of cone-based light detection. The Florida Tech and University of Tampa team cloned and sequenced the gene that encodes the spin protein. Humans have excellent color vision because we posses several different opsin proteins where as whales and their relatives are thought to only have one. 

Researchers are finding whales species where where that single gene doesn't function. Researchers also are working to discover how this mutation affects the wiring of the bowhead whale's retina. It was found that light detector are present, while functional cone cells are not in the bowhead whale retina. this makes it difficult to avoid entanglement in fishing gear.

However, the cone opsin mutation can enhance the whale's vision in dim light. This can provide insight to the health and function of the human retina. 

This is an interesting yet sad discovery. It's possible for more research to be conducted to recognize the same or similar mutations present in the retinas of other mammals including humans. Maybe some humans experience that something, not being able to see in bright light. It's great that scientists uncovered the #1 cause of death in a critically endangered species because now I hope that that a solution can be formulated to save the species. I suppose humans are not that different from other mammals are we originally thought. 


  1. It's great that we can use this information to help save this endangered species. I have always been curious about what kinds of factors influence our senses. I wonder if this mutation would relate to a similar, yet opposite, condition in humans called Nyctalopia or "night blindness."


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