Protein for monitoring endangered turtle's reproduction cycle

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  • Published: Jul 17, 2013
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Proteomics

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French scientists have identified two forms of vitellogenin in the blood of leatherback sea turtles, which will help to assess the reproductive status of these endangered species. The animals were monitored at nesting sites in French Guiana where a long-term study of the turtle is under way. It involved beach patrols every night to identify newly arrived females which had been tagged for easy detection.

Vitellogenins are lipoglycoproteins that are produced in response to estrogen stimulation and have been used in the past to check the reproductive status of birds and terrestrial turtles. Variations in vitellogenin levels can indicate whether or not a female is engaged in reproduction. In this study, described in Journal of Proteome Research, scientists from the University of Strasbourg used de novo sequencing methods based on tandem mass spectrometry to characterise two isoforms of vitellogenin in the sea turtle. The mass spectra were then used to measure levels of the protein in plasma throughout the nesting season using selected reaction monitoring (SRM).

It was clear that the amounts of vitellogenin fell as the nesting season progressed and were linked directly to the increased levels of reproductive effort. So, this protein could be used to assess reproductive status.

This is believed to be the first time that vitellogenin isoforms have been reported for a reptile and illustrates the power of the de novo peptide sequencing method for so-called exotic species for which no nucleotide sequences have been measured. It is also the first reported SRM assay for a non-sequenced species.

The same procedure could be applied to study other endangered species to support efforts for their preservation and survival.

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