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Molecular evolution of sensory systems in aquatic mammals in the context of the transition from terrestrial to aquatic environments

Grant number: 23/03819-2
Support Opportunities:Scholarships in Brazil - Master
Effective date (Start): March 01, 2024
Effective date (End): February 28, 2025
Field of knowledge:Biological Sciences - Genetics - Animal Genetics
Principal Investigator:Mariana Freitas Nery
Grantee:Ana Luiza Chaves Lein de Borba
Host Institution: Instituto de Biologia (IB). Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP). Campinas , SP, Brazil


Sensory systems play a crucial role in animal survival, including mechanoreception (somatosensory and auditory systems), chemoreception (smell and taste), and photoreception (vision). From a genetic point of view, most sensory receptors are inserted in large gene families. In the somatosensory system, TRP channels (subfamilies TRPA, TRPM and TRPV) and Piezo channels 1 and 2 are the best characterized receptors. In hearing, the TMC1 and KCNQ4 genes stand out. Regarding taste, the main gene families include TAS1Rs, TAS2Rs, PKD2L1 and ion channels such as ASICs, potassium channels and HCNs. In olfaction, we find the ORs, TAARs, V1R, V2R and TRPA families. Finally, in the photoreception system, opsins stand out. The transition from the terrestrial to the aquatic environment imposes different selective pressures on the sensory systems of animals due to the distinct propagation of chemical signals, sound and light differs in water. In this context, aquatic mammals, such as cetaceans and sirenians, are excellent models to study comparative genomics of sensory systems, due to the convergent evolution of adaptations in these systems. This allows the investigation of genomic regions involved in these adaptations and in genetic variation between groups. Therefore, this project aims to investigate the molecular evolution of coding regions related to the evolution of sensory systems in aquatic mammals, using bioinformatics tools and analysis, in order to understand molecular processes involved in the occupation of new environments. This understanding can provide valuable insights into the genetic and functional changes that occurred during the ecological transition and contribute to a deeper understanding of the evolutionary history of each group.

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