Pinniped Ontogeny as a Window Into the Comparative Physiology and Genomics of Hypoxia Tolerance

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Integrative and Comparative Biology

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Diving physiology has received considerable scientific attention as it is a central element of the extreme phenotype of marine mammals. Many scientific discoveries have illuminated physiological mechanisms supporting diving, such as massive, internally bound oxygen stores and dramatic cardiovascular regulation. However, the cellular and molecular mechanisms that support the diving phenotype remain mostly unexplored, as logistic and legal restrictions limit the extent of scientific manipulation possible. Next-generation sequencing (NGS) tools becoming more widespread and cost-effective, there are new opportunities to explore the diving phenotype. Genomic investigations come with their own challenges, particularly those including cross-species comparisons. Studying the regulatory pathways that underlie diving mammal ontogeny could provide a window into the comparative physiology of hypoxia tolerance. Specifically, in pinnipeds, which shift from terrestrial pups to elite diving adults, there is potential to characterize the transcriptional, epigenetic and posttranslational differences between contrasting phenotypes while leveraging a common genome. Here we review the current literature detailing the maturation of the diving phenotype in pinnipeds, which has primarily been explored via biomarkers of metabolic capability including antioxidants, muscle fiber typing, and key aerobic and anaerobic metabolic enzymes. We also discuss how NGS tools have been leveraged to study phenotypic shifts within species through ontogeny, and how this approach may be applied to investigate the biochemical and physiological mechanisms that develop as pups become elite diving adults. We conclude with a specific example of the Antarctic Weddell seal, by overlapping protein biomarkers with gene regulatory microRNA datasets.


Diving physiology; Pinniped; Ontogeny; Genomics; MicroRNA


Comparative and Evolutionary Physiology | Genomics



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