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New DNA studies verify existence of three right whale species

For the first time, two types of genetic material--both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA--have been used to verify a new species designation of great whale, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups in The Royal Society's Proceedings: Biological Sciences. According to the recent study conducted by researchers at WCS, the American Museum of Natural History, Fordham University, and University of Maryland, the North Pacific right whale has been confirmed as genetically distinct from both the North Atlantic and Southern right whale, a designation with important implications for conservation efforts.

"In 2001, we compared mitochondrial DNA samples from individual whales from different ocean basins and found that the North Pacific right whales merited their own species name," said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, researcher for WCS and the American Museum of Natural History. "Our recent analysis using both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA has produced even stronger support for this taxonomic revision, proving that both types of genetic material can be used in tandem to test and revise species classifications and subsequently redirect conservation efforts for those populations most in need."

Traditionally, mitochondrial DNA has been the preferred marker for descriptions of the genetic diversity within populations and for comparisons between different populations, in large part due to the rapid rate of sequence divergence in genetic sequences. The recent study, which used both mitochondrial and nuclear introns containing single nucleotide polymorphisms, more popularly known as SNPs, to complement one another, found that both kinds of markers support the listing of the North Pacific right whale (changed from the North Pacific population of Eubalaena glacialis to Eubalaena japonica, the North Pacific Right Whale) as its own taxon. The analysis included samples from individual North Atlantic right whales, southern right whales, and North Pacific right wh
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Contact: John Delaney
jdelaney@wcs.org
718-220-3275
Wildlife Conservation Society
16-Feb-2005


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