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Decoding the Mystery of Turtle Genomes

June 09, 2023

Researchers examined the genetic differences between green and leatherback sea turtles to see which species might be more resilient to climate change.

Large black and white sea turtle swims in the blue ocean with yellow and black striped fish The Pacific leatherback sea turtles have existed in their current form without scales and a hard shell since the age of the dinosaurs, but threats from bycatch, egg harvesting, and degradation of nesting habit have made this species endangered. Photo credit: Jason Isley, Scubazoo.

Researchers sequenced the genomes of green sea turtles and leatherback sea turtles, which are representative of the two living sea turtle families. They used ultra high molecular weight DNA to build these high-quality, annotated reference genomes.

They found that, despite green and leatherback turtles evolving from one another a long time ago, their genomes are actually very similar—so they started to look for differences. They found a higher number of genes involved with olfaction and immunity in the green turtle. This suggests they have both a better sense of smell and a better immune system than leatherbacks. The researchers also found that leatherbacks have very low genetic diversity, which is important for being able to adapt to different environmental conditions.


Sea turtle populations globally have declined in the last 50 years due to bycatch, human interactions, and climate change. The researchers hope to learn which sea turtle species will be better able to adapt to changing conditions in the future. This information will have implications for how we assess their populations and make plans for their recovery. 

Last updated by Office of Communications on June 15, 2023

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