A seahorse’s genetic instruction book is giving biologists a few insights into the creature’s odd physical features and rare parenting style.
Researchers decoded a male tiger tail seahorse’s (Hippocampus comes) genome and compared it to the genomes of other seahorses and ray-finned fishes. The analysis revealed a bevy of missing genes and other genetic elements responsible for enamel and fin formation. The absence of these genes may explain their tubelike snouts, small toothless mouths, armored bodies and flexible square tails, the team reports online December 14 in Nature.
Although H. comes may be short a few genes, the seahorse has a surplus of other genes important for male pregnancy — a trait unique to seahorses, sea dragons and pipefish. These genetic differences suggest the tiger tail seahorse has evolved more quickly than its relatives, the researchers conclude.