Sunday, August 6, 2023

Sea Turtle Genes

Around 100 million years ago, land-dwelling turtles transitioned to ocean life, evolving into today's sea turtles. The genetic basis of their ocean adaptation has been a mystery. A study led by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, involving 48 researchers from various institutions, unveiled detailed genetic maps of green and leatherback sea turtles. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this research provides insights into their survival in a changing world.

The researchers employed advanced techniques like long read sequencing, which accurately compiles genetic data. The genomes of the turtles were organized and annotated, revealing surprises. Despite diverging 60 million years ago, green and leatherback turtles share remarkably similar genomes, yet unique differences could hold survival keys. Green turtles exhibit more immunity genes and olfactory receptors, aiding their resistance to new pathogens and enhancing smell. Leatherbacks, with lower genetic diversity and historical population declines, are resilient yet face adaptation challenges.

Notably, genetic disparities between the species occur mainly on microchromosomes, previously considered genetic "junk." This emphasizes the importance of microchromosomes in vertebrate evolution, challenging previous notions.The collaborative effort involved various organizations and funders worldwide, including the National Science Foundation, NOAA Fisheries, Max Planck Institute, and more. This study sheds light on the genetics of sea turtles, contributing to informed conservation decisions amidst a changing environment.


  1. This is very interesting that genetic "junk" could actually turn out to be quite important for the survival of a species. It also interesting to think about how this "junk" played into evolution.

  2. It is super cool how with time, the sea turtles better adapted to the environment and have more olfactory genes and immunity genes. I also wonder why the microchromosomes were considered as genetic "junk."