New research from Georgia Aquarium and Georgia Institute of Technology provides evidence that a suite of techniques called "metabolomics" can be used to determine the health status of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), the world's largest fish species. The study, led by Dr. Alistair Dove, Director of Research & Conservation at Georgia Aquarium and an adjunct professor at Georgia Tech, found that the major difference between healthy and unhealthy sharks was the concentration of homarine in their in serum—indicating that homarine is a useful biomarker of health status for the species.
The paper, "Biomarkers of whale shark health: a metabolomic approach", which is published in the journal PLOS ONE, is especially significant to the veterinary science community because the study documents the results of a rare opportunity to collect and analyze blood from whale sharks. The paper also comprises the only work yet carried out on biochemistry of the world's largest fish.
"This research and its resulting findings are vitally important to ensuring Georgia Aquarium's and the scientific community's care, knowledge, and understanding of not only whale sharks, but similar species of sharks and rays," said Dr. Greg Bossart, Senior Vice President of Animal Health, Research & Conservation and Chief Veterinary Officer at Georgia Aquarium. "The publishing of this clinical research provides a greater opportunity for scientists and Zoological professionals to understand the Animals in our care and can be used to help wild populations, which puts us ahead of the curve in the integrated understanding of animal biology."
Previous research and observations showed that traditional veterinary blood chemistry tests were not as useful with whale sharks; most likely because such tests are designed for mammals and comparatively less is known about shark and ray blood. Dr. Dove and six colleagues from Georgia Tech set out to significantly increase knowledge of whale shark biochemistry by examining the metabolite composition of all six whale sharks which have been cared for at Georgia Aquarium. By using metabolomics, the researchers were able to determine which chemical compounds were present in the shark blood, without knowing ahead of time what they are.
"It is vitally important for us to continue to learn how to best support the whale sharks in our care," said Dove, who, along with the GA Tech team, spent three years developing the research. "We began the study by asking ourselves, 'What should we be looking for in whale shark serum?' and 'What compounds in serum might best indicate the health status of whale sharks?'"
Not only did the study determine that metabolic profiles of unhealthy whale sharks were markedly different than those of healthy sharks in general and particularly the different levels of homarine, but the research team also identified more than 25 other compounds that differed in concentration based on the health of the individual.
Findings detailed in "Biomarkers of whale shark health: a metabolomic approach" will help scientists and veterinarians to better understand the biology of whale sharks in their natural setting, and by homology, the biology of other shark and ray species that may be similar. Further, data compiled in the research will provide a reference library about whale shark biochemistry that can be consulted in future studies and importantly, adds new knowledge that will be useful to those who care for sharks and rays on a daily basis.
"This sort of advanced research is only made possible through collaboration between aquarium scientists and experts at our partner universities," said Dr. Dove.
Georgia Institute of Technology: http://www.gatech.edu
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
About once a year, Florida harvester ants dig new nests, a mystery entomologists are eager to get to the bottom of.
The finding that male homosexuality has a strong genetic component should be a boon for gay rights – but it could backfire
Alan Turing, the man who pioneered computing, also forced the world to question what it means to be human
During sleep, the brain locks in existing memories and can even form new ones. Scientists say they are starting to understand how that happens. A midnight snack may interfere.
They walk among us. Natural experiments, living ordinary lives, unaware that their genes may hold the clue to the next superdrug.
A crowd at the Santa Barbara Zoo got a pleasant surprise when its latest star attraction, a baby giraffe, came out for a jaunt
A massive white matter tract at the back of the brain, overlooked for the past century, might be crucial for skills such as reading.
An award-winning book on optical illusions explains the science of tricking your brain.
Scientists investigating a huge die-off of starfish along North America's Pacific coast have identified a virus they say is responsible for a calamitous wasting disease that has wiped out millions of the creatures since it first appeared last year.
After 43,000 years in the Siberian permafrost, the remains of a mammoth may contain enough DNA to recreate the beast's genome