Researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute have just released the first high-quality Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra) genome in partnership with the Cardiff University Otter project, aiming to support the study of their biology and support conservation efforts.

The Cardiff University Otter Project was set up in the 1990s to help understand a population crash of British otter populations in the 1970s, which fell by 80-94 per cent. It is thought that this was due to the accumulation of pollutants, some of which have since been banned, and with the declining contaminant levels, British Otters are making a comeback.

However, with otters being at the top of their food chain, concerns for otter populations have a wider impact on the ecosystem. Currently, widely used pesticide chemicals that are suspected of disrupting animal hormones are finding their way into rivers, and though the implications of these chemicals are unknown for the Eurasian otters, the species remains at risk.

The published otter genome is part of the Wellcome Sanger Institute’s 25 Genomes project, who’s goal is to sequence 25 novel genomes representing UK biodiversity and provide these as reference genomes for the global scientific community. It also contributes to the “Darwin Tree of Life Project”, where partner organisations contribute to assembling the genomes of all 60,000 animal, plant, fungal and protist species in the UK and Ireland.

It’s hoped that these genomes will enable scientists to better understand how British and Irish species are responding to environmental factors and how their genetics affects their ability to survive.

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