Dolphins And Whales Fight Disease Through An Evolutionary Arms Race

Source: Atlantic University

Photo:  Lachlan Dempsey/Unsplash

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Dolphins, whales and other cetaceans are susceptible to many of the same health hazards as humans including mercury, brevotoxin (e.g. Red Tide), and lobomycosis. They also serve as important sentinel species to highlight concerns relevant to environmental and public health. Yet understanding how these aquatic mammals fight disease-causing pathogens, how they adapt to changing pathogenic threats, and how their immune responses are triggered has been challenging.

Two recent papers by Florida Atlantic University researchers reveal how cetaceans compete for survival in an evolutionary “arms race” with changing pathogen communities. As pathogenic threats and the risk of infectious disease changes, whales and dolphins must adapt to those changes. The question today is can they adapt fast enough?

In a groundbreaking study published in PLOS One, researchers from FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute found that cetaceans use several strategies for success in this evolutionary arms race. The  in vertebrates is mediated through a series of rapidly evolving genes called the major histocompatibility complex or MHC.

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Photo:  Lachlan Dempsey/Unsplash

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