COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WJZ) — A University of Maryland team just published the entire genome sequence of the state’s favorite crustacean — the blue crab.

The researchers explained the best way to understand any organism is to understand its genetic blueprint. They say that they’ve learned the crabs’ functions including which genetic traits make the crabs particularly successful and reproducing or adapting to their environment, particularly in waters warmed by climate change.

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The genome sequencing project was done by a team of four scientists over the course of four years at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, (IMET) located in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

The project was lead by University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Professor Sook Chung at the IMET. She said understanding the crabs will help us keep them safe in a changing environment.

“Marylanders love crabs, and everybody wants to have big, fat crabs in the fall. Understanding what makes them successful is located in the chromosomes,” said Chung, an expert in crab biology. “Knowing the full genome, we are several steps closer to identifying the genes responsible for growth, reproduction, and susceptibility to disease.”

Researchers say these findings can help crab fisheries around the Chesapeake Bay and also with fishery policies.

Understanding how likely crabs are to reproduce successfully could aid in fisheries policies in places like Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, helping to maintain a healthy ecosystem and economy, the center said.

The crab selected for sequencing was dubbed “The Chosen One.” Researchers isolated a DNA sample from the crab and sent it off for sequencing.

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Genome sequencing isn’t simple or easy. The center said the sequencing needed a special computer running night and day for over six months.

Associate Research Professor Tsvetan Bachvaroff was responsible for assembling the genome, the center said.

“Imagine you take several volumes of an encyclopedia and you have a hundred copies of each volume. You put them all through a paper shredder and then you have to use that to reconstruct the original volumes of the encyclopedia,” Bachvaroff said. “Once the encyclopedia, or genome, is back in the correct order, you can begin to identify genes and use it like a reference book, looking up genes to answer questions.”

IMET Executive Director Russell Hill said the sequencing will “fuel decades of research.”

“The genome will be made publicly available so that scientists anywhere can use it, and it will fuel decades of research on the blue crab and other crustaceans,” Hill said.


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CBS Baltimore Staff