Undulate ray - undersideFaculty scientists are attempting to map the genes of the endangered undulate ray, a protected British species which has declined sharply in the last few decades. Their data will be used to check the heritage of around 120 undulate rays in European aquariums, helping to pair up breeding adults and produce healthy offspring.

The team is investigating the diversity of the rays’ DNA to infer how inbred individuals are. Inbreeding causes frequent still-births and shortens the lifespans of offspring. Dr John Fitzpatrick, lead researcher on the project, says:

“This approach has never been used to aid captive breeding in rays before. It’s exciting to be working on a project with such a worthwhile practical application and strong scientific value.”

Marine biologist Jean-Denis Hibbitt has been managing the UK population since 2010 and is now monitoring the breeding programme across Europe. There have been 29 successful births in the UK since the programme was launched. Jean-Denis says:

“The first objective of the breeding programme is to provide undulate rays for public display to help raise awareness Ray Markingsof their plight. This added awareness, and the ability for people to identify the species, will subsequently allow them to question whether illegally landed rays are on sale in their local fishmongers. If numbers in the wild fall to a critical level, it is feasible that we could help with a reintroduction programme.”

Faculty student Iulia Darolti has taken DNA swabs from all 45 of the rays in British aquariums. She also accompanied Jean-Denis to swab two wild rays for comparison. Iulia says:

“It has been a challenging assignment. To expose the rays to as little stress as possible we developed non-invasive sampling techniques that allowed us to collect DNA from the skin. Travelling the country working with rays is something I never imagined myself doing, but it has been a very rewarding experience.”

PhD student Graeme Fox has been doing much of the laboratory work. He says:

“We developed a set of genetic markers to help discover whether the rays are related or not. After screening the DNA, we were able to identify regions that were likely to be highly variable. Our hope is that this data will enable Sea Life to plan the optimum management strategy to secure the genetic health of this beautiful and increasingly scarce species.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s