2016-2017 Science Planning Summaries
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2016-2017 USAP Field Season
Project Detail

Project Title

Unraveling the genomic and molecular basis of the dive response: Nitric oxide signaling and vasoregulation in the Weddell seal

Weddell seal mom and pup on the Erebus Bay sea ice NMFS permit 19439; ACA permit 2016-005


Event Number:

Program Manager:
Dr. Christian Fritsen

ASC POC/Implementer:
Jenny Cunningham / Beverly Walker

Principal Investigator

Dr. Emmanuel S Buys

Massachusetts General Hospital
Boston, Massachusetts


Supporting Stations: McMurdo Station
Research Locations: On station / Big Razorback Island


A key component of the dive response exhibited by Weddell seals and other diving animals is strong cardiovascular regulation, with tissue-specific control of blood flow. This control likely results from varied sympathetic innervation and also from differential production of local modulators by endothelial cells (such as nitric oxide (NO)). The goal of this project is to obtain biosamples from Weddell seals to support an investigation of the NO-cGMP (cyclic guanosine monophosphate) system and other complementary pathways at both the genomic and molecular levels. Researchers working on the sea ice will collect tissue by performing opportunistic necropsies of pups and adults found dead of natural causes in the colonies. These measures will be verified in biopsy and blood samples collected from living adult seals and weaned pups in the prior season. Researchers will also collect placental tissue to develop Weddell seal cell lines that will be used in further laboratory experiments at their home institution.

Field Season Overview

Field team members will be housed on station and will make day trips by snowmobile to scout for freshly dead seals and unfrozen (recently delivered) seal placental tissue for sampling. Samples will be processed and stored in Crary Lab.

Deploying Team Members

  • Emmanuel Buys (PI)
  • Allyson Hindle (Co-PI)
  • Luis Huckstadt