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Unraveling the secrets of marine life evolution via genomics

'Korea Ocean Research & Development Institute (KORDI)’launched a Minke whale’s genome project by using next generation sequencing technology

Korea Ocean Research & Development Institute (President: Jung-Keuk Kang) has launched the Whale Genome project to discover the secrets of marine life evolution. Minke whale samples, among other species, will be used. Minke is the most abundant whale species on Earth and they are common around Korean peninsula. This research is performed as part of the ‘Marine and Extreme Genome Research Center program’ supported by the Ministry of Land, Transport, and Maritime Affairs. TheragenEtex Inc. and Genome Research Foundation participate in the project.

The whale is the largest mammal in 4.6 billion years of Earth's history and is known to have walked on land around 60 million years ago and has evolved from the ancestor of the order Artiodactyla (even-toed) including cows, pigs, and hippos. When deciphered completely, Minke whale genome can contribute significantly to understand the evolution of sea faring mammals on Earth.

A bowhead whale, the longest living creature among mammals, is estimated to have life span of 150~200 years. Hence, whale genome analysis is expected to provide an important clue to longevity and aging of mammals.

Whales also have distinct and interesting features, compared to other mammals such as reduced platelet aggregation reaction and the regulation of blood flow while diving, which will contribute to the research on cardiovascular disease.

Scientists estimate that the whale genome is approximately 3 billion base pairs (bp) long, which is similar in size to the human genome. It is expected that genome information obtained by Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technology and bioinformatic analysis will provide valuable clues to explain whale's adaptation to marine life.

The research can also provide a valuable framework to compare the genotypes of all the whale species, and lead to the conservation of whale species

Dr. Jung-Hyun Lee, the principal investigator of the program, at KORDI expressed "We will try our best to find out how this big mammal has adapted to the marine environment, and demonstrate our institute’s capability on marine biotechnology." He added, “The whale genome project will draw much attention worldwide."

The genome project will be carried out as a consortium effort and any researcher in any institute is welcome to contribute to it. The project home page is found at: