A team of scientists from the city-based Centre for Ecological Science at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, have not only sequenced the entire genome of the animal, but have also for the first time mapped the ‘transcriptome’ — that is, a section of genes active in a particular cell — for the blood cells of the species.
- Jayaprakash, a captive male elephant in Bandipur National Park, provided ear vein blood as well as venous blood sample that were sequenced.
- While over 95 per cent of the genes were found to be similar to the African elephant, there are 1,500 bases that are unique to the Asian elephant including those responsible for the heightened sense of smell.
- “There are over 4,000 olfactory receptors in the Asian elephant, double that of a dog which is considered to have the sharpest sense of smell.
- Sequencing the transcriptome of the blood cell led to the realisation that like the African elephant, the Asian elephant, too, has a particular gene — known to inhibit cancer — that has been copied 20 times, rather than a single copy present in most mammals.
Importance of the research:
- it builds a foundation (or, as the researchers say, “guidebook”) for further investigation into the genetic make-up of an elephant, its evolutionary path.
- it will help in the study of conservation measures.
- the elephant’s susceptibility to certain diseases can be studied — leading to devising methods to shield the endangered species from climate and habitat changes.