Bottlenosed dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) leaping above surface, Honduras, Caribbean Sea. Image courtesy: BBC

Mapping the proteins found in dolphin genome can help in developing treatments for common medical problems in humans, say researchers.

“Dolphins and humans are very, very similar creatures. As mammals, we share a number of proteins and our bodies function in many similar ways, even though we are terrestrial and dolphins live in the water all their lives,” said project lead Ben Neely, of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The researchers have created a detailed, searchable index of all the proteins of the bottlenose dolphin genome. A genome is the complete set of genetic material present in an organism.

Comparison between the proteins in humans and those in dolphins is providing researchers with new insights on the working of the human body. These findings could be used to develop new and precise treatment methods for common medical problems.

Studies have shown that proteins like vanin-1 may be protecting the dolphins’ kidneys and heart from damage while diving. While humans produce this protein in smaller amounts, researchers would be gathering more information on whether elevated levels of vanin-1 can provide protection to the kidneys.

Other applications include information on treatments for blood pressure and diabetes.

A detailed map of the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) genome was first compiled in 2008. However, recent technological breakthroughs have led to the creation of a new, exhaustive map of all the proteins found in the dolphin genome.

“Once you can identify all of the proteins and know their amounts as expressed by the genome, you can figure out what’s going on in the bottlenose dolphins’ biological systems in this really detailed manner,” explained Neely.

The study is part of the emerging field of proteomics, with potential applications such as improved care for dolphins in zoos and aquariums, assessments of wild dolphin populations, and better data on environmental contaminants and the oceanic food web.

“It’s amazing to think that we are at a point where cutting-edge research in marine mammals can directly advance human biomedical discoveries,” he added.

The project aims at providing new levels of bioanalytical measurements, results of which would prove useful for wildlife biologists, veterinary professionals, and biomedical researchers.