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The simultaneous detection of mitochondrial DNA damage from sun-exposed skin of three whale species and its association with UV-induced microscopic lesions and apoptosis

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Amy Bowman, Professor Mark Birch-MachinORCiD


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Due to life history and physiological constraints, cetaceans (whales) are unable to avoid prolonged exposure to external environmental insults, such as solar ultraviolet radiation (UV). The majority of studies on the effects of UV on skin are restricted to humans and laboratory animals, but it is important to develop tools to understand the effects of UV damage on large mammals such as whales, as these animals are long-lived and widely distributed, and can reflect the effects of UV across a large geographical range. We and others have used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) as a reliable marker of UV-induced damage particularly in human skin. UV-induced mtDNA strand breaks or lesions accumulate throughout the lifespan of an individual, thus constituting an excellent biomarker for cumulative exposure. Based on our previous studies in human skin, we have developed for the first time in the literature a quantitative real-time PCR methodology to detect and quantify mtDNA lesions in skin from sun-blistered whales. Furthermore the methodology allows for simultaneous detection of mtDNA damage in different species. Therefore using 44 epidermal mtDNA samples collected from 15 blue whales, 10 fin whales, and 19 sperm whales from the Gulf of California, Mexico, we quantified damage across 4.3 kilobases, a large region of the -16,400 base pair whale mitochondrial genome. The results show a range of mtDNA damage in the skin of the three different whale species. This previously unreported observation was correlated with apoptotic damage and microscopic lesions, both of which are markers of UV-induced damage. As is the case in human studies, this suggests the potential use of mtDNA as a biomarker for measuring the effect of cumulative UV exposure in whales and may provide a platform to help understand the effects of changing global environmental conditions. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. and Mitochondria Research Society. All rights reserved.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bowman A, Martinez-Levasseur LM, Acevedo-Whitehouse K, Gendron D, Birch-Machin MA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Mitochondrion

Year: 2013

Volume: 13

Issue: 4

Pages: 342-349

Print publication date: 01/07/2013

Online publication date: 11/04/2013

Acceptance date: 04/04/2013

ISSN (print): 1567-7249

ISSN (electronic): 1872-8278

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.mito.2013.04.003


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Funder referenceFunder name
Instituto Politecnico National (IPN, Mexico)
UK NIHR Biomedical Research Centre in Ageing and Age-related Disease
Faculty of Medical Sciences (Newcastle University)
Institute of Cellular Medicine
NE/F00818X/1Institute of Zoology
NE/F00818X/1National Environmental Research Council (NERC, UK)