Ghost Gene


Ghosting – it’s not just for dating anymore!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Most mammals live on dry land. But not manatees!  Long ago, the ancestors of elephants jumped in for a swim and adapted to ocean life. Boom – manatees, AKA sea cows, were born!

This transition involved changes to help manatees survive – both to their bodies and their DNA. How different are the -NA between land and marine mammals? University of Pittsburgh researchers wondered. To find out, they analyzed and compared genomes from both land and sea mammals.

Marine mammals, like whales and manatees, are MISSING a gene called PON-1. All land mammals have this gene, which helps them break down harmful chemicals in their blood. For example, while land cows can break down chemicals they encounter on the farm, manatees cannot!

Manatees in Florida live near many agricultural lands. Runoff and harmful chemicals from these farms get into their salty ocean homes. Without this ghost gene, they can’t fight off the toxins.

Oh, the hu-manatee!