Mapping dolphin proteins may benefit human health


Mapping all the proteins found in the dolphin genome could pave the way for finding a new way to treat some common diseases that affect humans, say researchers.

“Dolphins and humans are very, very similar creatures,” Ben Neely of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) said in a statement.

“As mammals, we share a number of proteins and our bodies function in many similar ways, even though we are terrestrial and dolphins live in the water all their lives,” said Neely, who along with his colleagues created a detailed, searchable index of all the proteins found in the bottlenose dolphin genome.

A genome is the complete set of genetic material present in an organism. Although a detailed map of the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) genome was first compiled in 2008, recent technological breakthroughs enabled the creation of a new, more exhaustive map of all of the proteins produced by the dolphins’ DNA.

Comparing the proteins of humans and these other mammals is already providing researchers with a wealth of new information about how the human body works.

Those findings could eventually be used to develop new, more precise treatment methods for common medical problems.

Studies have recently revealed a protein, known as vanin-1, may help the marine mammals protect their kidneys. Humans produce vanin-1, but in much smaller amounts.

Researchers would like to gather more information on whether or not elevating levels of vanin-1 may offer protection to kidneys.

“There’s this gap in the knowledge about genes and the proteins they make. We are missing a huge piece of the puzzle in how these animals do what they do,” Mike Janech from the Medical University of South Carolina, said.

Vanin-1 is just one example of how genomic information about this mammalian cousin might prove useful. There may be hundreds of other similar applications, including some related to the treatment of high blood pressure and diabetes, according to the researchers.

“Once you can identify all of the proteins and know their amounts as expressed by the genome, you can figure out what’s going on in the bottlenose dolphin’s biological systems in this really detailed manner,” Neely explained.

“It’s amazing to think that we are at a point where cutting-edge research in marine mammals can directly advance human biomedical discoveries,” he said.