Shocking seahorse discovery could shed light on evolution

Amazing discoveries on seahorses could lead scientists to a better understanding of the evolutionary process.

What makes a seahorse so different from other fishes and sea creatures?  That’s what a team of international researchers were trying to discover when they began to sequence the genome of a tiger tail seahorse, one of the 47 known species of seahorses in the world today.

This is the first attempt at sequencing the seahorse genome, and the researchers are hoping the process might explain why they don’t resemble any other ocean creatures.  Seahorses are the only vertebrates on Earth that reproduce through the male of the species, and combine that with the vertical body orientation and bony plates covering the body instead of scales, well, you certainly have a unique specimen to study.

The genome analysis, which focused on the tiger tail species because of the abundance of that species near the research lab in Singapore, is still very early in the process, but already the team is saying they have learned a lot about evolution of the seahorse.

“Regulatory elements are DNA segments that control the function of genes,” according to a statement issued by the University of Konstanz.  “Some of them barely change during the course of evolution since they have important regulatory functions. But several such unchanging and seemingly crucial elements are missing in sea-horses. This is also and especially the case for elements that are responsible for the typical development of the skeleton in fish, but also in humans. This is probably one of the reasons why the seahorse’s skeleton has been so greatly modified.”

The statement continued to say the seahorse’s body “is armoured with bony plates that add strength and better protection from predators. Additionally, its prehensile curly tail allows seahorses to be camouflaged and remain motionless by holding on to seaweed or corals. The genome sequences suggest that the loss of the corresponding regulatory sequence led to this ossification.”

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