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No. 78, 3rd May 2013

1. USA: Getting under the shell of the turtle genome

DATE: 27th April 2013

Scientists have decoded the genome of the western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) of north America, one of the most abundant turtles on Earth, finding clues to their longevity and ability to survive without oxygen during long winters spent hibernating in ice-covered ponds. Understanding the natural mechanisms turtles use to protect the heart and brain from oxygen deprivation may one day improve treatments for heart attacks or strokes, says the research team which includes scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the University of California at Los Angeles, St. Louis University and other institutions. The new data confirm that the turtles' pace of evolution parallels their speed on the ground. In other words, it's exceedingly slow, about one-third of the rate of human evolution and one-fifth the rate of the fastest evolving python. A close look at the turtle genome reveals that these creatures do not rely on novel genes for their unique physiological adaptions, such as the ability to withstand oxygen deprivation. Rather, they activate gene networks common to most vertebrates, including humans, but use those genes in different ways. The researchers also identified common patterns of gene loss in the turtle associated with longevity, sex determination and a lack of teeth, findings that warrant further investigation. "The challenge is to preserve the rich diversity of turtles that still exist on Earth as we continue to unravel their secrets for success," says first author H. Bradley Shaffer, PhD, of the University of California at Los Angeles. "Turtles have a tremendous amount to tell us about evolution and human health, but time is running out."

Link 1 to this web article online (English)

Download the research paper (English)

Link 2 to this web article online (Vietnamese)

© Tracey Haynes

Nghe An, Vietnam: Release of a 75-kg Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

DATE: 28th April 2013

On the 16th of April, Mr Nguyen Trung Thanh decided to buy a 75kg sea turtle for 20 million VND (approx. $956 USD) after he had heard a fishermen in Cua Lo (Nghe An province) captured the large animal. After keeping it at his house for a while he, together with Dien Thanh border post officials, released it back to the sea in the afternoon of the 27th of April. The turtle was believed to be an olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), which is listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of species endangered with extinction. Since the illegal wildlife trade is increasing the release of this animal is of great importance to wildlife conservation efforts in Vietnam.

Link to this web article online (Vietnamese)


3. Turtle Genome Analysis sheds light on the development and revolution of turtles' mechanism

DATE: 28th April 2013

From which ancestors have turtles evolved? How did they get their shell? New data provided by the Joint International Turtle Genome Consortium, led by researchers from RIKEN in Japan, BGI in China, and the Welcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK provides evidence that turtles are not primitive reptiles but belong to a sister group of birds and crocodiles. The work also sheds light on the evolution of the turtle's intriguing morphology and reveals that the turtle's shell evolved by recruiting genetic information encoding for the limbs. Turtles are often described as evolutionary monsters, with a unique body plan and a shell that is considered to be one of the most intriguing structures in the animal kingdom. "Turtles are interesting because they offer an exceptional case to understand the big evolutionary changes that occurred in vertebrate history," explains Dr. Naoki Irie, from the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, who led the study. Using next-generation DNA sequencers, the researchers from 9 international institutions have decoded the genome of the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) and Chinese soft-shell turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis) and studied the expression of genetic information in the developing turtle. Their results published in Nature Genetics show that turtles are not primitive reptiles as previously thought, but are related to the group comprising birds and crocodilians, which also includes extinct dinosaurs. Based on genomic information, the researchers predict that turtles must have split from this group around 250 million years ago, during one of the largest extinction events ever to take place on this planet. An unexpected finding of the study was that turtles possess a large number of olfactory receptors and must therefore have the ability to smell a wide variety of substances. The researchers identified more than 1000 olfactory receptors in the soft-shell turtle, which is one of the largest numbers ever to be found in a non-mammalian vertebrate.

Link 1 to this web article online (English)

Link 2 to this web article online (English)


© Wikipedia

4. Quang Tri, Vietnam: Wildlife trade intercepted

SOURCE: Thanh Nien Online - DATE: 27th April 2013

On the morning of the 26 th of April, the Police Department of Quang Tri province in north central Vietnam captured a man trafficking wild animals including 9 lizards, and 10 Elongated tortoises (Indotestudo elongata). The animals were transported from Cam Lo district to Dong Ha district to be consumed in restaurants.

Link to this web article online (Vietnamese)

© Thành Nam- Nguyễn Phúc

Melbourne, Australia: Zoo breeds critically endangered turtles

DATE: 1st May 2013

Melbourne Zoo has achieved an Australian first by breeding three Chinese three-striped box turtles (Cuora trifasciata). The critically endangered species, which is also known as Golden Coin Turtle, is regularly poached for food and traditional medicines and is all but extinct in the wild. They are native to streams in rainforests in south-east Asia and southern China. The zoo is part of an international effort to keep the species alive. Reptile keeper Damian Goodall said it is a rare achievement in world terms to successfully breed three new hatchlings over the past two months.

Link to this web article online (English)


6. Georgia, USA: 'Flipperbot' robot to save endangered sea turtles

SOURCE: Discovery news; DATE: 2nd May 2013

A team of physicists and engineers at Georgia Tech and Northwestern University have created a robot that mimics how baby sea turtles scuttle across the sand to reach the ocean just after hatching. Dubbed "Flipperbot," the scientists hope that the insights they gain from understanding the physics of sea turtle locomotion on land could lead to better ways to protect beaches and the endangered marine mammals that call it home. The idea came after looking at the results of an earlier study of how baby loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) walk across the sands of Jekyll Island in Georgia, USA, just after hatching, said Daniel Goldman, a professor of physics at Georgia Tech. "In that study we noticed they were doing a bend at their wrists," Goldman said. "We made some speculation, but didn't have any solid evidence. So we built a turtle inspired robot that functions as a physical model."

Link 1 to this web article online (English)

Link 2 to this web article online (Vietnamese)

© Melbourne Zoo

© Sony Tumbelaka-AFP-Getty Images

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