A University of Hawaii at Manoa biology professor has helped decode the genome of a the Western Painted Turtle — a well-studied freshwater species that is widespread throughout North America.

The feat is noteworthy because the Western Painted Turtle marks the second reptile species for which a complete genome sequence has been documented, according to a UHM press release. The first one was the green anole lizard.

Genome sequencing is especially valuable for scientists because it can lend insight into certain human health-related problems. For example, understanding how the Western Painted Turtles protect their vital organs when deprived of oxygen could enhance treatment of a human in the event of a heart attack or stroke, the press release says. 

Scientists say turtles are fascinating animals because of how old they are and how slowly they evolve. And Western Painted Turtles are of particular interest in part because they can hibernate during long winters by burying themselves in frigid mud, surviving with little oxygen for as long as four months. No other four-footed animal can do that. (Hawaii doesn’t have any native freshwater turtles, but species have been introduced as pets and for food.)

Robert Thomson, the professor, worked with scientists at Washington University’s Genome Institute to sequence the turtle’s genome. The center is one of three in the state whose sequencing efforts are funded by the National Institutes of Health

Photo courtesy of Just chaos.

— Alia Wong