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Variations of transcript profiles between sea otters Enhydra lutris from Prince William Sound, Alaska, and clinically normal reference otters

January 1, 2012

Development of blood leukocyte gene transcript profiles has the potential to expand condition assessments beyond those currently available to evaluate wildlife health, including sea otters Enhydra lutris, both individually and as populations. The 10 genes targeted in our study represent multiple physiological systems that play a role in immuno-modulation, inflammation, cell protection, tumor suppression, cellular stress-response, xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes, and antioxidant enzymes. These genes can be modified by biological, physical, or anthropogenic impacts and consequently provide information on the general type of stressors present in a given environment. We compared gene transcript profiles of sea otters sampled in 2008 among areas within Prince William Sound impacted to varying degrees by the 1989 ‘Exxon Valdez’ oil spill with those of captive and wild reference sea otters. Profiles of sea otters from Prince William Sound showed elevated transcription in genes associated with tumor formation, cell death, organic exposure, inflammation, and viral exposure when compared to the reference sea otter group, indicating possible recent and chronic exposure to organic contaminants. Sea otters from historically designated oiled areas within Prince William Sound 19 yr after the oil spill had higher transcription of genes associated with tumor formation, cell death, heat shock, and inflammation than those from areas designated as less impacted by the spill.