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Scientists Push for Electric Eel Genome Research

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Sequencing the complete electric eel genome would be a boon to research on everything from energy production and storage to tissue regeneration, according to some scientists.
Six American researchers wrote a review, published this month in the Journal of Fish Biology, calling for dense, seven- to 11-fold shotgun sequencing of the electric eel genome — a move they said would provide information about more than 95 percent of the fish’s genome as well as its genetic scaffold.
Electric eels, Electrophorus electricus, can generate bioelectricity from chemical food energy using specialized electric organs. These contain electrically-charged cells that, in turn, house precisely regulated ion channels and receptors. Together, this system lets electric eels generate electrical pulses ranging from weak, millivolt discharges to strong zaps up to 600 volts.
Although a library of E. electricus expressed sequence is reportedly in the works, lead author James Albert, a biologist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and his colleagues argued that access to whole-genome information will not only provide information about coding and non-coding regions of the eel genome, but also will facilitate the production of DNA microchips for gene expression experiments.
They predict that such work will expedite research into the fish’s genetics and physiology, including the regulation of its electricity-producing cells. And understanding these cells, the group said, may lead to the development of new technology such as biobatteries or even bioreporters that label cells with electricity rather than the light emission of reporters, such as green fluorescent protein.
“[H]arnessing the full potential of bioelectrogenesis will require a complete understanding of mechanisms underlying the development, regulation, and modulation of electrogenic cells,” the authors wrote. “The availability of genomic sequences in electric fish will enable real progress on the development of new technologies to use electricity in medicine, agriculture and other aspects of applied research.”
In the review, the authors also claimed that the merits of sequencing the electric eel genome overlap with the stated goals of the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute Community Sequencing Program to “conduct direct sequencing and to generate informatics capacity towards issues of scientific and societal importance in organisms other than those related directly to human disease or traditional model organisms.”
Another advantage to this particular creature, the authors noted, is its ability to regenerate some tissues and organs — including its spinal chord — after injury. Peeking into the eel’s genome may explain this, as well as its complex evolution and neurophysiology.
Although an electric eel genome project plan was developed several years ago but ultimately rejected by DOE/JGI, Albert and his ilk are confident that the advent of more affordable and available high-throughput DNA sequencing will eventually help make the project a reality. Still, even now, the projected price tag is in the millions, according to some reports.

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