by | Jul 11, 2022 | 0 comments

Going deep on the mitochondrial genome

You might know that many animals in the deep sea evolved from shallow water ancestors, but did you ever wonder what happens to their genes when they make that evolutionary trip? Researchers at OGL asked that question by looking at the mitochondria of two families of marine clams: one that stayed in shallow water, and a closely related sister family that, over many millions of years, migrated into the deep.

The similarities and differences between species of Teredinidae and Xylophagaidae, two sister families of marine clams.

Mitochondria are tiny bean-shaped structures found in cells of all animals. They are known as the powerhouse of the cell because they help convert food into the fuel (ATP) that cells need to survive. Surprisingly, the mitochondria have their own tiny genomes, separate from that of the rest of the cell. The small size of mitochondrial genomes makes them a quick read, and that makes them attractive for scientists to study.

The question the researchers asked was: How did their mitochondrial genes change when these clams moved from the warm, food-rich, shallow ocean, to the cold, food-poor desert of the deep sea? The answer was unexpected. The genes in the deep-sea family became shuffled, with different gene orders in different species, but the rate at which the individual genes evolved was slow. In the shallow water family, the genes evolved quickly, but they all stayed in the same order. In the future, the researchers hope to discover why these two families followed such different evolutionary paths and what this might tell us about life in the deep sea.

Read more about this fascinating work here.

Interested in helping OGL dive into more marine genomes? Support OGL here.


UN Reaches Historic High Seas Agreement

Last weekend, the United Nations reached an agreement on a landmark treaty aimed to protect life in the high seas! This treaty focuses specifically on resources that are contained in ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction. These areas, which are currently largely...

Watch Dan Distel’s Darwin Festival Talk!

Did you know that there is currently a marine ecosystem off the coast of Alabama that is being powered by an ancient undersea forest!? OGL's Dan Distel gave an amazing talk about how this is possible at Salem State's Darwin Festival in February. If you missed it, you...

How our DNA got all marked up

We are all familiar with the genetic code—the simple set of three-letter words that translate the As, Ts, Cs, and Gs of DNA into the diverse and complex forms we know as animal life. But, if every cell in an animal has the same DNA, how does one cell know to become a...

A new paper from OGL solves an old mystery

Shipworms are wormlike wood-eating clams that have been the nemesis of mariners since the first wooden boat set out to sea—and for good reason. Shipworms can gnaw their way through a wooden hull in a matter of months. Since at least 350 BCE, scientists have pondered...

The Wacky Underwater World 

What animal lives more than 250 years but never eats a thing? If you guessed the deep-sea tubeworm Escarpia laminata, you would be correct—and also probably a deep-sea biologist!   Escarpia laminata lives near deep-sea cold seeps, places where methane...