The lobster genome map is complete, here’s why it’s important

The first complete genome sequence for lobster could help fisheries deal with climate change and provide more information on how the human immune system works.

Fraser Clark, a professor in the faculty of agriculture at Dalhousie University is part of a six-person team that completed the genome sequence.

“It’s an encyclopedia on how to make a lobster. It’s all of the DNA sequence in order that goes into the instructions on how a lobster can respond to a lot of different conditions,” Clark told Island Morning host Laura Chapin.

The work took almost seven years, with the technology available for the sequencing continually changing and improving. But even as science logged the genomes for people and mice and cows and chickens, Clark and his colleagues had to develop some of their own specific technique to stitch the full lobster genome together.

Responding to climate change

The results have shed light on lobster physiology, such as the DNA repair mechanisms that allow lobster to live for 50 years, or the sensitive chemical detectors in their antennae, akin to a sense of smell.

“We’ve actually seen an expansion of the number of receptors that they have by looking at the genome,” said Clark.

Sequencing the genome took close to seven years. (Submitted by Fraser Clark)

“That’s why they’re so good at finding those chemical cues, like the smell of dead fish or of a predator or of other lobsters. They’re really able to sense those very well.”

The genome will also help scientists understand how lobsters will respond to climate change, including warmer water and ocean acidification.

Lobster already live in a variety of different habitats around Atlantic Canada, from the relatively warm waters of the Northumberland Strait through progressively warmer waters on P.E.I.’s North Shore, the east coast of Nova Scotia, and the Bay of Fundy.

“We want to really understand how that temperature stress is going to impact different stages of lobster, and if that’s going to be the same impact in different areas of Atlantic Canada,” said Clark.

A complex immune system

The lobster genome also provides an opportunity for a better understanding of the human immune system.

Lobsters only have what is known as an innate immune system, which does not include the production of antibodies as the human immune system does. But the genome has revealed that immune system is more complex than expected.

“They’re usually very, very healthy and we want to understand why from a basic immunological standpoint,” said Clark.

“Seeing that they do have these extra sequences is beginning to explain why they remain so healthy.”

Studying the lobster’s innate immune system, which works all on its own, could lead to a better understanding of how the innate immune system works in humans, he said.

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