Genomic basis for skin phenotype and cold adaptation in the extinct Steller's sea cow

Diana Le Duc*, Akhil Velluva, Molly Cassatt-Johnstone, Remi Andre Olsen, Sina Baleka, Chen Ching Lin, Johannes R. Lemke, John R. Southon, Alexander Burdin, Ming Shan Wang, Sonja Grunewald, Wilfried Rosendahl, Ulrich Joger, Sereina Rutschmann, Thomas B. Hildebrandt, Guido Fritsch, James A. Estes, Janet Kelso, Love Dalén, Michael HofreiterBeth Shapiro, Torsten Schöneberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Steller's sea cow, an extinct sirenian and one of the largest Quaternary mammals, was described by Georg Steller in 1741 and eradicated by humans within 27 years. Here, we complement Steller's descriptions with paleogenomic data from 12 individuals. We identified convergent evolution between Steller's sea cow and cetaceans but not extant sirenians, suggesting a role of several genes in adaptation to cold aquatic (or marine) environments. Among these are inactivations of lipoxygenase genes, which in humans and mouse models cause ichthyosis, a skin disease characterized by a thick, hyperkeratotic epidermis that recapitulates Steller's sea cows' reportedly bark-like skin. We also found that Steller's sea cows' abundance was continuously declining for tens of thousands of years before their description, implying that environmental changes also contributed to their extinction.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereabl6496
JournalScience Advances
Volume8
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2022

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