Dr Sigrun Lange, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Pathology, led a study in collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey which focused on developing a new type of biomarker which may be used as an indicator of health in Antarctic seabirds.
The study compared specific components in blood samples of eight different seabird species, including albatrosses, petrels and skuas, and focused on developing a new type of biomarker in Antarctic seabirds. The researchers used specific protein modifications and extracellular vesicles, which are released from cells and can be isolated from small blood samples. These vesicles carry a lot of genetic and protein information, which can be analysed to assess disease and health markers.
This is the first study to profile extracellular vesicles and identify deiminated proteins as novel blood biomarkers in Antarctic seabirds. It also highlights the potential for the development of a novel health index biomarker test, which could be implemented to monitor the responses of threatened animals to opportunist infections and environmental pollution.
These findings may be particularly useful for monitoring such climate change-induced effects on long lived seabirds such as albatrosses, which have an average lifespan of over 40 years. In future research, these biomarkers can be further refined to become useful indicators of physiological and immunological status in seabirds, many of which are globally threatened and face a range of environmental challenges due to the ever-changing climate.
Talking about their research, Dr Lange said: “Extracellular vesicles are being developed and used as tools to understand many human diseases, but there is still very little research on how to utilise these vesicles for health monitoring of wild and endangered animals.
“We isolated these vesicles for the first time from several species of Antarctic seabirds and identified specific patterns in protein modifications and the extracellular vesicles from blood samples. This has given us a range of information about their health and metabolic functions; we will next work towards refining a selection of identified markers to build a biomarker panel.”