Find the absolute blue crab. An unprecedented marathon effort to grow crustaceans in the lab. A supercomputer grinds data day and night for six straight months.
Researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences say they have unlocked The complete genetic code For blue lobster, a cornerstone of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and a staple regional seafood.
The achievement comes 18 years after the human genome was first sequenced. Such a landmark effort, decoding the blue cancer genetic blueprint could lead to many practical applications, according to the Maryland research team. Among them: the possibility of opening the door to the cultivation of crabs as an alternative to harvesting wild populations.
“Understanding what makes it successful is down to the chromosomes,” said Seok Chung, the researcher who led the project at the UMCES Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. “Knowing the complete genome, we are several steps away from identifying the genes responsible for growth, reproduction, and susceptibility to disease.”
Researchers will have no shortage of places to search and solve these mysteries. The study found between 40 and 50 chromosomes in the crab’s genome, nearly twice that of its human counterpart. Within these chromosomes, the researchers discovered about 24,000 genes, slightly more than in humans.
While the human genome took about 13 years to break down, technological advances enabled blue crab researchers to finish their work in just over four years. With the team’s announcement on October 8, the blue crab has joined forces with the Chinese mitten crab and the swimming blue crab as the only species of crabs whose genomes have been scrambled.
blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) in the Atlantic Ocean from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Argentina, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico. The common name is derived from their bright blue claws. Crabs are one of the most valuable commercial fisheries in the Chesapeake, with an annual quayside value of about $80 million.
Chung said the genome study began with the search for a unique crab.
As the weather turns colder in the fall of 2018, she finds herself on a waterman’s dead boat offshore from Pasadena, Maryland. She returned to her lab with several females. One of these females survived to adulthood, mated and gave birth to an offspring – one of which would become the “chosen one,” as Chung called her.
Scientists managed to obtain the DNA of a crab. But the genetic code in its original form is broken and must be arranged sequentially. This job falls to Chung’s colleague, Tsvetan Pachvarov, and a powerful computer that can handle the onslaught of data. She had to work continuously for six months to achieve this feat.
Imagine that you took several volumes of an encyclopedia, and you have a hundred copies of each volume. You put them all in a shredder, and then you have to use that to reconstruct the original volumes of the encyclopedia,” Bachvarov said. “Once the encyclopedia or genome is back in the correct order, you can start identifying genes and using them as a reference book, looking for genes to answer questions.”
The “chosen one” was noteworthy for another reason: By breeding the crabs through each of their life cycles, Chung’s lab became the first in North America to “close the life cycle” of the blue crab, she said.
They published their findings in the June edition of the journalG3: genes/genome/genetics. UMCES plans to make the genome publicly available so that scientists anywhere can benefit from it.
The detailed sequences cannot be sold for profit anyway, at least under the current interpretation of patent law. The US Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that naturally occurring genes are No patent.
That could make it difficult to raise money to fund the genome project, Chung said. Her study took a somewhat unusual approach to crowdfunding. More than half of the $250,000 came from private donations — not from the usual collection of foundations and government agencies.
Mike and Trish Davis, a married couple involved in environmental advocacy efforts in Maryland, chose to support the study after soliciting project ideas from leadership at the Center for Marine and Environmental Technology. “I thought it was an exciting project but also a challenge to fund because a lot of people don’t understand genomics,” said Mike Davis, a former software manager.
They brought in many wealthy benefactors, and persuaded them during tours of the facility.
Now that the genome has been sequenced, the researchers said, the researchers could unlock new ways to investigate the blue crab.
It can be used, for example, to trace the geographical origins of crab meat purchased in markets and restaurants. This could help the defenders of Gulf-caught crabs in their battle against the pest of the improperly named imported crab meat.
Pashvarov suggested that the genome could also make it possible to maintain blue crab spawning or aquaculture operations in the Bay Area – thus reducing pressure on wild populations. One of the biggest drawbacks in aquaculture is that crabs peel off their hard shells as they grow, and fellow crabs will devour them helplessly. If their genetic code can be harnessed to cause shedding at the same time, enough may remain until adulthood to make such projects viable.
“This is the first step,” Chung said.
This article was originally published BayJournal.com on Tuesday 9 November 2021.
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