Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Turtles have fingerprints? New genetic technique reveals paternity and more

Date:
June 24, 2013
Source:
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Summary:
For 220 million years they have roamed the seas, denizens of the bustling coral reef and the vast open ocean. Each year, some emerge from the pounding surf onto moonlit beaches to lay their eggs. Throughout human history, we have revered them, used them, and worked to protect them, but we have only begun to understand these ancient, iconic creatures. Now, with all five of the sea turtle species in the U.S. threatened or endangered, knowledge is more crucial than ever.

Leatherback hatchling on nesting beach, St. Croix, USVI.
Credit: Kelly Stewart

For 220 million years they have roamed the seas, denizens of the bustling coral reef and the vast open ocean. Each year, some emerge from the pounding surf onto moonlit beaches to lay their eggs. Throughout human history, we have revered them, used them, and worked to protect them, but we have only begun to understand these ancient, iconic creatures. Now, with all five of the sea turtle species in the U.S. threatened or endangered, knowledge is more crucial than ever.

NOAA scientist Dr. Peter Dutton leads a team that's trying to answer some important questions about marine turtles. What will happen as sea levels rise, covering the nesting beaches turtles have used for hundreds of years? Which turtle laid this mysterious clutch of eggs on a remote beach? Where in the ocean do they mate, and how big is this population?

Thanks to a recent breakthrough in the genetics lab, Dutton and his colleagues have a clever way to find answers. Like detectives, they have learned that fingerprints help solve the puzzle…genetic fingerprints. For decades, most sea turtle studies and conservation efforts have focused on nesting females and hatchlings, because they're easiest for humans to access. Male sea turtles, which don't come ashore, are elusive characters.

Dutton's team has pioneered a technique that allows them to fill in the blanks using tiny DNA samples from nesting females and hatchlings. As Dutton and his colleague Dr. Kelly Stewart wrote in a recent article, "Hidden in a hatchling's DNA is its entire family history, including who its mother is, who its father is, and to what nesting population it belongs." (See: http://seaturtlestatus.org/sites/swot/files/report/030612_SWOT7_p12_Sea%20Turtle%20CSI.pdf)

This innovative tool is opening up new avenues in marine turtle conservation. Population recovery goals are based on how long turtles take to reach maturity, and genetic fingerprinting can help reveal this key piece of information, which may be different for each population. Dutton's team developed the technique while studying endangered leatherbacks on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. In the last four years, they have sampled 20,353 hatchlings there, and discovered the genetic identity of the fathers, even when multiple males have sired a single clutch of eggs; how often individual turtles mate and their reproductive success; and the ratio of males to females among the breeding turtles.

On Padre Island National Seashore in Texas, critically endangered Kemp's ridley turtles have been leaving scattered nests along remote beaches, but females are often long gone by the time monitors find the nests. There, NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center and the National Park Service are using the technique to match mystery nests to mother turtles. Identifying who's nesting where and when, survival rate, and breeding success over many years will help us monitor this small population and gauge the impact of major events like disasters.

In the most surprising news yet, green turtles have begun nesting in the main Hawai'ian islands for the first time in generations. Green turtles, or honu, have nested in the remote Northwest Hawai'ian Islands, primarily on the quiet, low-lying beaches of French Frigate Shoals, a coral atoll about 500 miles from Honolulu.

Genetic fingerprinting shows that about 15 untagged females have become "founders" on the main Hawai'ian islands, boldly nesting where no one has nested before…at least not for hundreds of years. It's possible that this pioneer population could provide a kind of buffer as sea level rise threatens to shrink their traditional nesting beaches. Many questions remain, but for now science is giving turtles, and those who care about them, reason to hope.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Turtles have fingerprints? New genetic technique reveals paternity and more." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 June 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130624143922.htm>.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2013, June 24). Turtles have fingerprints? New genetic technique reveals paternity and more. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130624143922.htm
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Turtles have fingerprints? New genetic technique reveals paternity and more." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130624143922.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Baluchistan Mining Eyes an Uncertain Future

Baluchistan Mining Eyes an Uncertain Future

AFP (July 29, 2014) Coal mining is one of the major industries in Baluchistan but a lack of infrastructure and frequent accidents mean that the area has yet to hit its potential. Duration: 01:58 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

AP (July 28, 2014) AP Investigation: As the Obama administration weans the country off dirty fuels, energy companies are ramping-up overseas coal exports at a heavy price. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

AP (July 27, 2014) A live-streaming webcam catches loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in the Florida Keys. (July 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins