Ge­orge gives up his se­crets

THE LAST PINTA IS­LAND TOR­TOISE, DE­CEASED 2012, LEAVES A DNA LEGACY THAT COULD HELP OTHER SPECIES

The Nation - - SCIENCE & ENVIRONMENT -

GALA­PA­GOS GI­ANT tor­toises pos­sess ge­netic vari­ants linked to DNA re­pair, im­mune re­sponse and can­cer sup­pres­sion – pro­vid­ing clues into their longevity, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished on Mon­day.

A team of in­ter­na­tional re­searchers se­quenced the genomes of two such tor­toises, in­clud­ing Lone­some Ge­orge – the last known mem­ber of the sub­species Geoch­e­lone ni­gra abing­doni, who died in cap­tiv­ity on the Gala­pa­gos’ Santa Cruz Is­land in 2012.

They de­tected “lin­eage-spe­cific vari­ants af­fect­ing DNA re­pair genes, in­flam­ma­tory me­di­a­tors and genes re­lated to can­cer devel­op­ment”, ac­cord­ing to the study pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture Ecol­ogy & Evo­lu­tion.

The Pa­cific is­land chain off main­land Ecuador is famous for its unique flora and fauna stud­ied by Charles Dar­win as he de­vel­oped his the­ory of evo­lu­tion. Twelve gi­ant tor­toise species still in­habit it.

Gala­pa­gos Na­tional Park direc­tor Jorge Car­rion said un­cov­er­ing the se­crets of Lone­some Ge­orge’s longevity will help with ef­forts to re­store gi­ant tor­toise pop­u­la­tions in the ar­chi­pel­ago.

Gi­ant tor­toises, which can live for over 100 years in cap­tiv­ity, ar­rived in the vol­canic Gala­pa­gos re­gion three mil­lion to four mil­lion years ago.

It is be­lieved that ocean cur­rents dis­persed them around the is­lands, cre­at­ing 15 dif­fer­ent species – three of which are ex­tinct.

The sec­ond gi­ant tor­toise stud­ied was a mem­ber of a species found on is­lands of the Aldabra Atoll in the Sey­chelles.

Lone­some Ge­orge was the last sur­viv­ing Pinta Is­land tor­toise (Geoch­e­lone ni­gra abing­doni).

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