Fish Genome Has Many Uses

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Dustin Wcisel (left) and Dr. Jeff Yoder (left)

EMC faculty member Jeff Yoder and his graduate student Dustin Wcisel played important roles in the recently published genome sequencing of the spotted gar, an important addition adding to our knowledge of fish genomics.  The compete genome of the spotted gar was published online by Nature Genetics this Monday (March 7, 2016) in a paper that is the collaboration of 61 co-authors and greatly expands our understanding of important questions about evolution as well as providing a very useful new tool for studying the function of genes in other species, including humans.

Dr. Yoder, an established expert in innate immune function related gene expression in fishes spearheaded the team of comparative immunologists who analyzed the immune genes encoded by the gar genome. The group included NCSU Functional Genomics graduate student, Dustin Wcisel, and experts at the Department of Pediatrics, University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, St. Petersburg, Florida, US; the Department of Evolutionary Studies of Biosystems, SOKENDAI (Graduate University for Advanced Studies), Hayama, Japan, and the Molecular Genetics Program, Benaroya Research Institute, Seattle, Washington, USA.


Spotted Gar (photo by SONY DSC)

Gar are special fish in part because they are from a more ancient lineage that did not duplicate their genomes as has occurred in the evolution of most other fish species. Having the sequenced genome of the gar as a reference makes research comparisons to other fish genomes and even humans easier.  The lack of accumulated additional copies of genes in the gar genome also makes it potentially more reflective of an essential collection of genes.

The spotted gar is a powerful new model system for studying vertebrate genomics, evolution, and development because of its important phylogenetic position as a ray-finned fish outgroup as well as its accessibility for developmental studies.  Gars have enamel bearing teeth and ganoid scales making them a useful model for understanding vertebrate mineralization.  They also may have the ability to see UV light.  In the realm of immune function, Dr. Yoder’s team has found that for one class of immune receptors that recognize pathogens, some of the gar receptors are more similar to tetrapod (human) receptors while others are more similar to teleost receptors.

Cold Stun Sea Turtles Return To Gulf Stream

Another group of 39 lucky sea turtles being cared for by the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center for cold stun sequelae were successfully released into the Gulf Stream on February 23, 2016.   The large influx of cold stun turtles starting in early January, has pushed the state of the art sea turtle rehabilitation facility to its limits, but  the around-the-clock care by a dedicated staff, careful attention to veterinary care is paying off.  The release of the most recent 39 turtles frees up much needed space for the approximately 90 turtles continuing to occupy the available rehabilitation tanks.

Beasley Addresses Boat     Jean Beasley addresses volunteers aboard the "Vonda Kay" as the ship departs for the Gulf Stream. Photo courtesy Ken Blevins/StarNews Media

Beasley Addresses Boat
Jean Beasley addresses volunteers aboard the “Vonda Kay” as the ship departs for the Gulf Stream. Photo courtesy Ken Blevins/StarNews Media

The 39 turtles released successfully passed their exit physical examinations conducted by Dr. Craig Harms.  Declared fit and ready for release, they were transferred in the early dawn hours by 20 volunteers onto a local charter boat, the “Vonda Kay” which immediately headed out to find the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. The turtles were each individually released to cheers and applause, as they swam off into warmer waters, ready to continue their life journeys in the sea.

     Releasing a young sea turtle over the side of the "Vonda Kay." Photo courtesy Ken Blevins/StarNews Media

Releasing a young sea turtle over the side of the “Vonda Kay.” Photo courtesy Ken Blevins/StarNews Media

The journey is far from over for the hardworking folks at the Rescue & Rehabilitation Center. Many turtles affected by the cold or other events continue to need expert care and rehabilitation before they can return to sea.  But every successful release is inspirational for the sea turtle rehabilitation teams of North Carolina.


Jean Beasley (left) is interviewed by a TV reporter. Darth Vader, a young green sea turtle who was admitted this year for cold stun relaxes on a towel. Photo courtesy of Town of Surf City.

Great House Officers Match with EMC

Early February is always a tense time for future clinicians as they anxiously await the national match results.  The nation’s top veterinary candidates and programs wait to hear how well they have fared in the very competitive matching process. It is just as exciting a time for the institutions and faculty who are on the other side of the match.  Massive faculty effort goes into evaluating the many fine applicants and choosing which will be the best for our programs training leaders in zoological health.  The EMC has always enjoyed excellent results from the match and this  year was no exception.  What better way to welcome the temptation of warmer weather than to extend our warmest welcome to our newest veterinary residents & intern.  This year is a particularly important year because it sees 3 rather than 2 new house officers joining us.

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Dr. Michelle Whitehead holds an owl patient named Voldemort.

Dr. Michelle Whitehead, a 2014 DVM graduate from Western College of Veterinary Medicine will joining us as the first ever Zoological Companion Animal resident in the newly established position to focus on privately owned zoological species.  She will be coming to us after completing her internship in zoological medicine & surgery at Texas A&M.  Dr. Whitehead was heavily involved in the Wild and Exotic Animal Medicine Society (WEAMS) during her time at Western and served as president of that organization which is similar to our WAAZM.  She has also studied at the Vancouver Aquarium and at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as well as at the the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro. Her passion for education and teaching will surely shine during the small exotics anatomy and physiology wet lab she will be instructing at Texas A&M this spring, and we are excited to have her join us as a resident at NC State.

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Dr. Whitehead with a bear cub treated at the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

From a cursory glance it might seem that this year was a sweep for Texas A&M University, and in a sense it was as joining the Exotic Animal Medicine Service as a new intern this July will be Dr. Jane Christman, who will be joining us fresh from a small animal rotating clinical internship at Texas A&M University.  Dr. Christman, however, is a dedicated Spartan, having earned her DVM in 2015 from Michigan State University.  She is excited to be joining the EAMS team and has long held a career in zoological medicine as her long-term goal.



Dr. Jane Christman will be starting her career in zoological health as the new EAMS intern next year.

Last, but certainly not least, returning to the NCSU fold this year as the new Zoological Medicine first year Resident will be Dr. Kate Archibald, NCSU DVM class of 2014.  After graduating from NC State, Dr. Archibald completed a small animal rotating internship at VCA West Los Angeles before joining the team at the Omaha Zoo as a zoological medicine intern.  Dr. Archibald is well known to us and is an outstanding clinician and an active researcher having published with many of the EMC faculty and others on a wide array of species including bullfrogs, blue crabs, waxy monkey frogs, and tarantulas.

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Dr. Kate Archibald hugs a Zoo Camp volunteer.

During her time at NCSU, Dr. Archibald was also an active participant in the creation of ZTAU masterplan for the College of Veterinary Medicine’s emerging Zoological Teaching Animal Unit. She was among the first pioneering veterinary students that collaborated with graduate students from the College of Design to create a plan to bringing NC State’s emphasis on experiential education to the teaching of zoological medicine.  We are excited to have her back and not just because of all of the work that is available to be done on further implementing the ZTAU master plans that started with the completion of the first ZTAU installment, Wolf Prowl.

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Dr. Kate Archibald (second from left) works with fellow DVM and Design graduate students on the ZTAU master plan development.