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首页 About News Center BGI News Biodiversity Upping the Ante in Biodiversity Conservation – Genome-Mapping Extreme Environment Species

Upping the Ante in Biodiversity Conservation – Genome-Mapping Extreme Environment Species

June 10, 2022 Views:

What do three distinct animals – the penguin, polar bear and Tibetan antelope – have in common? 


These three animal species live – and thrive – in extreme environments: the penguin in the frozen temperatures of the South Pole, the polar bear in the icy surroundings of the North Pole, and the Tibetan antelope in the glacial Tibetan Plateau mountain ranges that stretch more than 4,000 meters above sea level.

Studying the living habits and adaptative traits of such animals can provide a foundation for research on extreme climate adaptation, species evolution, biodiversity conservation as well as climate change, all of which have a bearing on the planet’s biodiversity.

BGI Group’s “World Three Poles” Animal Genomes Project – a genomic level study of three penguin, polar bear and Tibetan antelope species that live in harsh environments of the Antarctic, Arctic and high altitudes – aims to do just that1, thereby bridging the gap in the genome research of such animals.

Collaborating with BGI on this project include Dalian Laohutan Ocean Park Research Center2, Qinghai University, Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences and China Polar Research Center. The project will use next-generation sequencing technologies to complete the construction of whole genome sequence maps of these animals, and carry out further genome level analysis.


Polar Bear – The Poster Child of Climate Change

In particular, the polar bear has become the poster child for the impact of environmental climate change on life on earth. To-date, global warming has been most pronounced in the Arctic, and this trend is projected to continue, with indications of reaching a nearly ice-free Arctic in the summer before the middle of this century. This increases the urgency with which nations must act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change3.


Antarctic Warming Threatens Penguin Colonies

Likewise, the Antarctic continent is warming as a whole, but temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula – the northernmost region that juts out towards South America – are rising faster than any other place in the South Pole4. As a result, the distribution of penguin colonies has changed in tandem with the retreat of glaciers and collapse of ice shelves fringing the Peninsula5. Studying such developments is important for biodiversity conservation, as well as efforts to predict future climate changes more accurately.


Tibetan Antelope in Third Pole Hit by Habitat Loss

The third instance of an extreme environment is the Tibetan Plateau, which is known as “the roof of the world” due to its vast coverage with an average elevation exceeding 4,000 meters. With tens of thousands of glaciers distributing over the Plateau, the region is dubbed the “the third pole” of the world6. The endangered Tibetan antelope – one of only four existing antelopes living on the Plateau – is a species that plays an indispensable role in regulating the structure and function of the Plateau’s ecosystem7. Disruption from global warming in recent decades is expected to cause habitat loss and impact survival of this species8.


This is where continued efforts by BGI and the international scientific community to use genomics to study extreme environmental adaptation and species evolution will contribute towards biodiversity conservation. This will also go towards better managing climate change to preserve sustainability of all life on the planet.