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Genome research with reptiles could yield clues to human health

(Star-Telegram) It would come in handy, it’s safe to say, if humans could freeze nearly solid, or go more than a few short minutes without oxygen, and not suffer catastrophic injury.
The Western painted turtle can. In the northern reaches of its range, which stretches from northern Mexico to southern Canada, it spends its winters hibernating below the surface of ice-locked ponds and still feels quite chipper come spring.
What is the turtle’s secret? Thanks to an international project to sequence its genome, evolutionary biologists — including Todd Castoe and Matthew Fujita at the University of Texas at Arlington — now have a better idea. If they are right, doctors might one day possess advanced knowledge of how to treat certain human diseases…
The researchers found that the painted turtle’s genes used for tolerance of extreme cold and oxygen deprivation are common to all vertebrates but that they are more active in turtles that experience the extreme conditions. One gene that humans share became 130 times more active in turtles subjected to low-oxygen environments.
Further study of the turtle genome could yield clues related to human health and well-being, particularly oxygen deprivation, hypothermia and longevity.
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