Genetics

The genetic diversity of the Saimaa ringed seal is very low, and the population is divided into several small subpopulations. These factors can make the Saimaa ringed seal population vulnerable to environmental changes. Part of the UEF research in Saimaa ringed seal genetics is to investigate the role and maintenance of genetic diversity in isolated and endangered host–parasite systems. The aim is to elucidate whether the extremely low genetic variability of the Saimaa ringed seal is reflected in the species composition and genetic diversity of associated parasites. In addition, the genetic diversity in Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) genes will be compared between Saimaa ringed seals and ringed seals from Baltic Sea and Lake Ladoga. The research will help us to understand the long-term changes in genetic diversity in isolated host-parasite –systems and the importance of parasites in maintaining the diversity in immune system genes. It will also be easier to estimate the role of parasites in survival of endangered Saimaa ringed seal.

UEF participates in the Saimaa ringed seal genome project lead by the University of Helsinki. The genome project aims to sequence and publish the full genome of the Saimaa ringed seal by the end of the year 2016. The resultant information can be used to enhance conservation of the critically endangered population.