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Beluga Whale Genome

Using samples from a mother-and-daughter pair, researchers have sequenced the genome of the beluga whale, the Vancouver Sun reports.

Beluga whales are sociable animals that live in the arctic and subarctic and can live to the age of about 50 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries. It adds that some beluga whale populations are threatened.

The Sun notes that the sequencing samples came from a pair that lived in the Vancouver Aquarium until late 2016 when they became ill and died because of exposure to a toxin. The mother was 30 and the daughter was 21.

British Columbia Cancer Agency's Steven Jones and his colleagues report in Genes that they generated a 2.32-gigabase-pair genome on the Illumina HiSeq X platform using samples from the pair. At the same time, they generated transcriptomic data from brain, duodenum, heart, lung, spleen, and liver tissue samples and predicted some 29,500 genes. They note in their paper that the beluga genome is similar to that of the killer whale Orinicus orca.

"We think it's one of the most complete mammalian genomes in the scientific world. It will ultimately provide us with many tools to study beluga whales," Jones tells the Sun.