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Evolution of limb development in aquatic mammals through comparative genomics

Grant number: 23/13917-1
Support Opportunities:Scholarships in Brazil - Doctorate (Direct)
Effective date (Start): March 01, 2024
Effective date (End): February 28, 2029
Field of knowledge:Biological Sciences - Genetics - Animal Genetics
Principal Investigator:Mariana Freitas Nery
Grantee:Nicolle Souza Leto
Host Institution: Instituto de Biologia (IB). Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP). Campinas , SP, Brazil


Cetaceans, sirenians, and pinnipeds are aquatic mammals that independently returned to the aquatic environment at different times, undergoing a series of morphological adaptations that enable life in this new habitat. Among these adaptations, changes in body shape and limbs allow for locomotion in the water. Extreme changes such as the loss of hind limbs in cetaceans and sirenians and the paddle-like shape of the forelimbs are related to the evolution of genes and regions that control gene expression during development. For example, alterations in the duration of BMP gene expression lead to hyperphalangy in cetaceans, enabling greater limb mobility in navigation. Some of these changes are known for cetaceans, but little is known about sirenians and pinnipeds. These environmental transitions represent replicas that allow for the study of the evolution of the limbs of aquatic mammals, with implications for understanding the evolution of mammals as a whole. In this context, the aim of this work is to investigate the molecular evolution and expression patterns of the major gene pathways that specify the anterior-posterior, dorsal-ventral, and proximal-distal axes in the development of the forelimbs of aquatic mammals, in order to compare their adaptations to the return to the water. The results of this work will contribute to expanding our understanding of genomic and possibly convergent evolution during the colonization of new environments. (AU)

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