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Zebra Mussels Everywhere

Researchers have sequenced the genome of the zebra mussel, an invasive species that has taken over lakes in the US Midwest, in hopes of finding a way to combat their spread, the Star Tribune reports.

A University of Minnesota-led team of researchers combined both long-read sequencing and Hi-C-based scaffolding to generate a Dreissena polymorpha genome assembly. As they report in a preprint posted to bioRxiv, the researchers also relied on comparative genomic and transcriptomic analyses to examine three biological processes that likely contributed to the zebra mussel's invasive success: shell formation, synthesis of byssal threads, and thermal tolerance. In particular, they report that D. polymorpha harbors retrotransposons similar to Steamer a transposable element found in soft-shelled clams and that it has an expanded complement of heat-shock and anti-apoptotic proteins.

Knowing the zebra mussel's genetic makeup could help guide efforts to control their numbers. "This was the first step," Nick Phelps, director of the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center, which in part funded the work, tells the Star Tribune. "We don't know yet quite where to attack. But now there's a whole spectrum of strategies that can be considered."