[Press Release] Cracking the American Lobster Genome

(GLOUCESTER, MA) The American lobster (Homarus americanus) supports one of the most valuable fisheries along the east coast of North America that for generations, has been integral to the cultural fabric and history of the region. With its distinctive anatomy and unique behaviors, this benthic predator is not only of great economic and ecological importance, but has also provided a powerful model for neuroscience research, especially for deciphering neural networks controlling rhythmic movements and olfaction. Now GMGI researchers, along with an international team of scientists, have published the first complete genome sequence of this iconic creature in the June 23rd issue of Science Advances. “This genome sequence will serve as a valuable resource for fisheries, ecology, and biomedical research, especially in understanding complex traits including susceptibility to disease and ability to cope with environmental change,” said GMGI’s Donald G. Comb Science Director Dr. Andrea Bodnar, emphasizing the importance of this genomic research. “This is especially important during a time of rapidly changing environmental conditions in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean.”

The American lobster is one of the largest marine invertebrates throughout its range and can reach a length of more than 3 feet and weigh as much as 40 pounds. While lobsters grow through a stepwise process of molting, which makes accurate age determinations challenging, the American lobster has been estimated to live for more than 50 years and perhaps as much as 100 years. Cancer-like diseases have rarely been reported for lobsters, indicating high fidelity of the genome over their long life.

Analysis of the genes encoded in the lobster genome revealed a unique complement of genes involved in maintaining genome integrity and cell survival in addition to a diverse array of sensory and defense mechanisms to thrive in the benthic marine environment.

The team of scientists found a remarkable increase in the number of genes associated with the sensory nervous system, providing the lobster with the tools it needs to be a successful predator. The lobster is equipped with a robust immune system to protect it from invading bacteria or viruses, and a new class of proteins was discovered that suggests unique interactions between the immune system and the nervous system.

In addition to a robust immune system, the lobster genome also revealed a diversity of defense mechanisms with the expansion of genes involved in the formation of its chitin shell that protects it from physical injuries, and genes associated with cellular defense and protection from environmental toxicants.

Together, these unique evolutionary adaptations play an essential role in the remarkable life history and ecological success of the American lobster. “It was a challenging genome to sequence and assemble, but it now provides the research community with a resource to continue to expand our understanding of the biology, ecology and evolution of this fascinating animal,” said GMGI Senior Research Associate, Jennifer Polinski, lead author on the publication.

This collaborative project led by GMGI involved scientists from Johns Hopkins University, University of Florida, Dalhousie University, University of Prince Edward Island, Tufts University and Harvard University.

Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute (GMGI) is a non-profit enterprise that addresses critical challenges facing our oceans, human health and the environment through innovative scientific research and education. By bringing world-class science and transformative workforce development to Gloucester’s historic waterfront, GMGI is catalyzing the regional economy. Please visit www.gmgi.org and follow GMGI on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn for more information.