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New Study Identifies Microbiome in Whale’s Blow

Source: Phys.org/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution - October 12, 2017 in Science/Tech

New Study Identifies Microbiome in Whale’s Blow
Photo: A. Weith/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

A new study by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and colleagues identified for the first time an extensive conserved group of bacteria within healthy humpback whales’ blow—the moist breath that whales spray out of their blowholes when they exhale. The research published Oct. 10, 2017, in mSystems, an open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

The discovery of this shared respiratory “microbiome” could serve as an important framework for monitoring the health of this and other whale species. Just like with humans, scientists say the assemblages of microorganisms that live in and on whales—known as microbiomes—may play a crucial role in their overall health, from maintaining a healthy immune system to fighting off disease.

“The pulmonary system is a common site for bacterial infections in whales,” says WHOI researcher Amy Apprill, lead author of the study. The collaborative research team also included scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), SR3 Sealife Response, Rehabilitation and Research and the Vancouver Aquarium.

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